Call for regional assistance as 115 workers face Norwegian brush-off

Tony Trench. regional organiser for Unite arrives at Perident for talks on monday.
Tony Trench. regional organiser for Unite arrives at Perident for talks on monday.
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TALKS between Scottish Government officials and bosses at Perident in Tweedbank are due to take place tomorrow to discover if bosses can be persuaded not to transfer production to Malaysia with the loss of 115 jobs.

The shock move from the company, part of the Norway-based Jordan Group and a leading manufacturer of dental floss and related products, was conveyed in letters issued on Friday to its 132 employees.

A 90-day consultation with the union Unite is under way and TheSouthern understands the complete transfer of production will take place, on a phased basis, in the four months after that.

The announcement sparked a furious reaction from Unite’s Tony Trench after he met Perident’s managing director Gary Butler at the factory on Monday.

He blasted: “I was told the firm has been making losses, but to my mind, this is about increasing profits, even if that means discarding the skills and the people who have kept this company going for decades.

“Even though staff are not well paid, earning around £7 an hour, the work can be done cheaper in the Far East.

“It is a shocking turn of events especially for those families with more than one member working there. There is no alternative work in the Borders which badly needs help.”

There has been a predictable outpouring of concern from local and national politicians, but the firm yesterday declined to add to, retract or clarify the following media statement, issued on Monday:

“The Galashiels [Tweedbank] production site has for some time been loss making. However, in recent months this situation has declined further and the future outlook suggests this situation will not change.

“The company has concluded with regret that there is no alternative but to propose that production is transferred to the Far East. Perident has started consulting with the Unite union and staff representatives on this proposal.

“Should production be transferred, the site at Galashiels would be converted to a warehouse, with a new product development facility and commercial office.

“It would be with regret that Perident closes its production in Galashiels. However, Perident believes this action is necessary in order to ensure that Perident remains competitive in the global market place, and secure the long term future for the business.”

Councillors were privately briefed on Monday by Richard Sweetnam, Scottish Borders Council’s economic development manager.

“Via Skills Development Scotland [SDS], we have had feedback from Scottish Enterprise [SE] that the Jordan board is looking at this proposal on account of declining sales and the challenges of trying to make their manufacturing in Scotland profitable,” revealed Mr Sweetnam.

It seems, therefore, the planned halt in production and the devastating loss of jobs has been agreed far from these shores. A company source claimed a major order had been lost in December. Other recent lost orders have been attributed by Jordan to the comparatively high costs of manufacturing in Scotland. As the production process is labour-intensive, there is little room for manoeuvre in trimming back the workforce or pushing up productivity, according to the source.

After speaking to Mr Butler, Scottish Secretary and local MP Michael Moore told us: “This is very bad news for the staff in Tweedbank ... and the loss of manufacturing is a serious blow for the area.

“It is clear that trading has been extraordinarily difficult, not just in Scotland but elsewhere in the world. I want to explore any options there may be for the workforce, but Mr Butler was clear that the losses are so significant that this is not a great prospect.

“It is a small comfort that some jobs and functions will remain, but there are seven months before the planned end of production, during which we must support the people who are losing their jobs.”

Council leader and Tweedbank councillor David Parker was just as pessimistic.

“It’s very disappointing news that Perident is considering the possibility of making 115 staff redundant,” said Mr Parker. “The company has been highly valued in the Borders and has grown into a large, successful business over the last 20 years.

“We have a consultation period in place in relation to these redundancies and I would hope the enterprise network, the council, trade unions and the workforce together may be able to identify some solution that would allow the operation at Tweedbank to continue. It would be a tremendous shame otherwise.”

Councilllor Vicky Davidson, SBC’s executive member for economic development, bemoaned the latest hit to local manufacturing jobs.

“There is an urgent need to level the playing field in terms of government funding to safeguard existing jobs and attract new ones,” she told us.

Sje added: “The lack of assisted area status for the Borders has meant we do not qualify for the full range of assistance on offer to other parts of Scotland.

“Over the last two years, out of £100million invested by the Scottish Government to create jobs in new or expanding companies, only £67,000 has come to the Borders. That needs to be addressed and the case for assisted area status in the Borders is now overwhelming.”

South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame has written to Scottish employment minister John Swinney asking what intervention and assistance can be provided by the Scottish Government if the 115 employees lose their jobs.

“Unfortunately, this move has come as no surprise given the history of large multinational firms who don’t have a firm footing within the local community,” said Ms Grahame. “Mr Swinney has been in touch with the company to try to see what can be done. Officials will be talking to the company on Friday [tomorrow] to take the matter forward.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said yesterday: “This will be a particularly anxious time for the employees and their families. The Scottish Government will do everything it can to help minimise the impact. Scottish Development International will continue to liaise with the company and provide all possible assistance during the consultation period.”

z Perident was established in 1986. Its product portfolio includes dental floss and tapes, dental sticks, interdental brushes, breath freshener sprays and tongue cleaners. The company boasts that it has customers in more than 30 countries. Around 60 jobs were shed at the Tweedbank plant in 2008.