A Timely Escape

When I was made redundant from Allied Steel & Wire, I felt rather aggrieved and not particularly lucky. However, in hindsight, managing to stay would have meant going down with the ship and losing all of my pension accumulated over the years.

Instead, I got a £12,000 redundancy payment – goes to show that if you’re going to be made redundant, you’d better have it done to you when the company still has the money to pay off their guilt. I also had the impression that the pay-off was so generous to avoid being sued for unfair dismissal – I had investigated pursuing this route (that’s how bad I felt about it at the time) but the sums you’d get from the court would be a paltry few thousand pounds.

Also, they were rather good about letting me stay for a maximum of 12 months after the redundancy decision had been made, which made it easier to look for a job, which I finally bagged at the end of 1995.

But let’s go back to how the story started : Allied Steel & Wire used to consist of three main parts, the steel plant, the bar and section mills, and the rod mill. Then there was a director ambush, and the managers of the steel plant and the rod mill carved up the third director’s domain. The section mill became part of the steel plant and the bar mill part of the rod mill. At the time I was working at the Conti-Stretch plant, reporting to Tony Franks, who was the Technical Manager for the rod mill.

That was the last time I was sufficiently naive to think that my job was safe, because after the take-over of the bar mill, it was going to be that mill that was going to be shut down. And the person reporting to Tony for the bar mill was Jem Speed – so there I was, feeling a little sorry for Jem, and totally unprepared for what was to come.

What happened in the end was that there was not an automatic redundancy of the person in charge of the bar mill, but we all had to sit through an interview, and given the same questions. Except that what looked at first glance like a fair set of questions gave me the distinct feeling to be loaded to make me come off worse : one question in particular was what product development I had personally initiated in my current position. This was when my work at the Conti-Stretch was more aimed at QA, and the major effort to move from a 2-rib to a 4-rib pattern was more of a team rather than a personal effort.

Then the Easter holidays came, which was the time when my mother-in-law died of cancer on Easter Saturday. When I saw Tony shortly after the holidays, I had the distinct impression he was about to give me the bad news, but when queried how my holiday was, and I replied that it had turned into a bereavement, he immediately did the decent thing and held back on any mention of the selection process.

Still, the decision could not be delayed for too much longer, and I must admit that was one my very low points in my working life when it was broken to me that I was made redundant. However, as I’ve said, the pay-out was generous, I was allowed to stay on until I had found another job or until April 1996 (whichever came first), and got assistance from Coutts Consultancy to help me with my job search.

In the end I had a seamless transition from ASW to British Steel without any period of being out of work, and seeing as the British Steel Pension Scheme was seen as a pretty solid one, I transferred all my money from Allied Steel & Wire’s scheme into the British Steel one. Only in hindsight did it become clear what a lucky break this was.

I once saw Tony Franks at an Institute of Materials conference in London in 2001, and at the time ASW were the only UK rebar producers left after they had bought up Sheerness. In his words “In the past I would have bitten of your hand to have been the sole UK producer, but now the imports from Spain are killing us”. A year later the curtains came down, and only then did it turn out that the company had been helping itself to the money in the pension pot, and everybody working at ASW not only found they were out of a job, but also without any pension provision. This was one of the events that ultimately led to creation of the Pension Protection Fund2, which may now be under stress with the potential arrival 130,000 British Steel Pension Scheme members.

(1) Allied Steel & Wire – BBC
(2) Ros Altman – Wikipedia


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