BOTH the main trade union involved and local politicians are still hopeful a buyer will be found to rescue Barrie Knitwear in Hawick, safeguarding its 180 jobs, after parent company Dawson International fell into administration.
It came after the 140-year-old business was unable to come to an agreement on the firm’s pension liabilities with the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) and Pensions Regulator.
Dawson had been struggling with a pension debt of £129million and last month its shares plunged after it announced the regulator and PPF had rejected the firm’s attempt to put its pension plans into a protection fund.
As well as sparking fears for the jobs in Hawick, the appointment of administrators last week also generated worries for ex-employees of Dawson’s former subsidiaries who are now drawing their company pensions.
This includes some of the 100 workers employed at Laidlaw & Fairgrieve mill in Selkirk, which Dawson closed along with its sister mill in Dalkeith in 2000 after competitive pressure from the Far East.
Alex McLuckie, senior organiser for GMB Scotland, said the failure of Dawson International to get an agreement on the pension scheme meant that administration was always a threat.
But now that a decision had been taken with the appointment of KPMG as administrators, Mr McLuckie said the real fight to save the 180 jobs at Barrie Knitwear is now on.
“This is a profitable firm that returned a £1.1million pre-tax profit last year. It has a highly skilled and dedicated workforce delivering high quality goods,” said Mr McLuckie.
“If ever a group of workers deserved a future, it is members working for Barrie and GMB will do everything we can to ensure these jobs are saved – not just for today, but for years to come.”
Speaking to TheSouthern yesterday, Mr McLuckie confirmed he had held initial discussions with KPMG.
“All pay and enhancements are being honoured and they are taking steps to deal with the pensions issue, which is the fly in the ointment at the moment. I will be calling them today or Friday, and am also planning to meet with them next week.
“From the GMB point of view, we are keen that a production base remains at Barrie Knitwear in Hawick. We don’t want to see someone coming in just to asset strip and to acquire the name.
“We are keen to ensure that, at the end of the day, those 180 jobs are secured so that employees can still earn a living and look after their families.
“We’ve had a meeting with our members in Hawick and obviously they’re worried about the future. But it’s a good little company, in profit with a good workforce, and we are working for a positive outcome.
“People are also worried about pensions, so we need to get that sorted for them.”
Local MP and Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, also confirmed to TheSouthern he had spoken with the administrators.
“I sense they are very much on the case. My sense is also that they are reasonably encouraged by the level of interest in Barrie so far and I got the clear impression they want to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.
“Inevitably, however, there are complexities in a procedure of this nature.”
Mr Moore says he has also spoken with the chairman of the company’s pension trustees.
“Statutorily, the Pension Protection Fund [PPF] has to assess the pension scheme to ensure there are no nasty surprises for whoever eventually takes over.
“Those on pensions already are getting full pensions, although any future entitlement will be at PPF rates and terms.
“Those soon to be on pensions will get 90 per cent of what the scheme originally offered with the PPF statutory rate thereafter.
“It is much different now – 10 years ago people would have got nothing.”
Scottish Borders councillor for Selkirkshire, Vicky Davidson, told us that the pension position of former Laidlaw & Fairgrieve workers is just one of many questions which need to be answered.
“I understand it is an anxious time for them as well as the current employees at Barrie’s.
“I’m keeping in contact with the local MP, Michael Moore, who I know is working with the Pension Protection Fund and the administrators to work through these questions and hopefully secure a future for the business, as well as safeguarding the pensions of previous employees.”