Tag Archives: Redundancy

Counterfactual #4

As things stand, I got made redundant from Allied Steel & Wire and, after joining British Steel, transferred all of my AS&W pension funds into the British Steel Pension Scheme. But what if I had managed not to be made redundant, or having been made redundant, found a job in a place where the pension scheme was not so well regarded as that of British Steel?

In the first case, I would have continued to build my pension in the AS&W scheme until the company’s collapse in 2002, in the second case, chances are that I would have left my money built up until 1995 in their scheme. And in both cases I would lost it all, or at the very least most of it.

Meaning that, if I managed to find a job either after the redundancy or after AS&W’s collapse, I would have to work until at least age 65 in order to build up a pension of a suitable size. At the age of 40 I would have rated my chances of finding a new job pretty good, but if I hadn’t pulled it off, I might have considered the offer of my sister in Australia, and emigrated there with her as a sponsor.

Unlike earlier counterfactual speculations, the possible outcomes of this one is becoming harder to predict, and presumably that will become even more so with future counterfactual blogs that delve deeper into the past.


Michael Sheen: The Fight for My Steel Town

Just earlier today I watched “Michael Sheen: The Fight for My Steel Town” (originally broadcast on 8 June 2016) on BBC iPlayer. I know, a bit late, but still good to see the period stretching from my last few months in Port Talbot until my first few months of retirement, and see how other people lived through the same period.

Since my decision had already been made a year before, I did not endure the same agony as some of the people in the documentary, but still my heart bleeds to see the upset caused by the rollercoaster ride of early 2016. It makes me realise how lucky I was to be able to jump ship on a full pension aged 60. Had I been born half a year later, things might have turned completely different, and I might not have been sitting here contemplating how things might have been. I would have been in the thick of it, and probably feeling trapped.

A pity that there appears to be no sequel planned – I would have been curious how the last six months looked like by the people that still hope to sit the storm out. But then again, that’s the media for you: as long as there’s the threat of redundancies, strikes or closures, the cameras are in place to record what happens. As soon as the initial panic is over, the world forgets about you, even though for those trapped, the problem of uncertainty hasn’t gone away.

Applying for Your Own Job

Having to apply for your own job is one of the worst possible things you’ll ever have to do in your working life, and fortunately a thing I’ve only had to do once. No doubt it’s not an uncommon practice, but even when I was part of the selection process when 500 white collar jobs had to go in Strip Products UK, this did not feel like the process I had to go through in Allied Steel & Wire. At Tata Steel you were part of a large population and you didn’t feel particularly targeted in the process.

At Allied Steel & Wire there were only five of us working for Tony Franks, and that number had to be reduced to four. My major mistake was that I didn’t feel especially threatened and approached the interview not fully prepared for what turned out to be a rather biased set of questions, which in hindsight appear to have been designed to make me look worse than the other candidates.

Especially when the question came “what development work have you personally been doing in your current position?” I started to get the feeling that the phrasing was such that despite the waffle I tried to produce, the answer was effectively “none”. You see, I had been doing development work when I was working at the Tremorfa Bar Mill, but since my move to the Contistretch department, the emphasis had been more on QA and running the test house. Also any development work had been part of a group effort and not to be considered as a purely personal effort.

You can then see how the insertion of the words “personal work” and “current position” restricted the scope to such an extent that it appeared to me to be designed to make me come off worse. So much for having someone from HR present to make sure that every one of the interviewees received the same set of questions. What good is this if the deck has been stacked from the start ?

Anyhow, this approach of letting people apply for their own jobs is not something new for Allied Steel & Wire. I had seen it in operation when the Reverse Twist process wound down and was due to be replaced by the Contistretch process. Instead of a wholesale transfer of the work force from one to the other, every single person had to apply for a position on the Contistretch team. Quite a good way of ridding yourself of a few people who were considered to be bad apples.

Which raises the question: when I was made redundant, was I considered a bad apple ? Makes you think, doesn’t it ?

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