TWENTY-three “gobsmacked” former staff of Bridgehaugh Dyeworks had their contracts terminated just 24 hours after a fire devastated its Selkirk factory.
The terrifying blaze, which started at 2.50am last Thursday morning, left the 200ft South Bridge Street premises completely gutted, despite the efforts of 50 firefighters.
No-one was injured, but owners Bridgehaugh Limited have confirmed the building will be demolished and are awaiting the result of a fire investigation, although it is believed the inferno was started by an electrical fault in an industrial dryer.
And a further bombshell was delivered during a Monday afternoon meeting between workers and management when director Sean Crannigan announced 23 of the 25 staff were no longer employed by the company, as of last Friday.
A letter issued to staff named reason of frustration – a legal clause which means a contract can be ended if one side finds it impossible to fulfil – for the sudden redundancies.
The move has angered a number of the former workforce, some of whom will only receive a week’s wages as a redundancy payment.
One ex-Bridgehaugh employee, who did not wish to be named, told TheSouthern: “The talk on Thursday was of the possibility of some employees working from Langholm Dyeworks or possibly one or two at Ettrick Dyers.
“But everybody was gobsmacked at Monday’s meeting – we thought we would get three months’ notice. There was no consultation period at all.
“I cannot believe they have explored every avenue in such a short time. There was no indication at the meeting that they had been thinking about rebuilding the factory.
“They may be legally entitled to do it but what about morally? The meeting was simply a case of the company saying ‘You’re finished, goodbye’.”
Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for economic development, Vicky Davidson, said: “Our initial understanding is that the company can do this legally, although it is obviously very disappointing.”
The Selkirkshire councillor added that Bridgehaugh’s orders – which included dying yarn for Peebles firm Replin Fabrics to supply upholstery fabric for trains in Russia – will go to other dye factories, in the short term at least.
She added: “I was as shocked and dismayed as everyone else at this sudden and terrible loss of the dyeworks in such a dramatic fire and the economic development department at the council offered immediate support to the management team to see if we could salvage and retain the work in the Borders.
“I very much hope that some of the Selkirk dyers will be offered alternative employment in Langholm, where the dyeworks building has spare capacity and is owned by one of the Bridgehaugh shareholders.”
Bridgehaugh was run by four directors representing Macnaughtons Holdings of Perth, Linton Tweeds in Carlisle and two Yorkshire-based yarn agents.
The firm had been started in 1998 by Keith Hendrie, who retired exactly three weeks before the fire.
Mr Hendrie said this week: “It is just heartbreaking for all the workers.
“I have been in touch with some old contacts about possibly finding some work, because they are a highly-skilled workforce.
“But I do not know about them working from Langholm and I would not like to speculate on the future in case I raise false hopes.”
A spokesperson for Bridgehaugh Ltd said: “We are still assessing the overall impact of this tragic event.
“Fortunately, our yarn store, where we kept most of the customer products, was undamaged.
“Regrettably, we will be unable to resume trading in the near future and therefore have had no choice but to let the majority of staff go. We will help them in any way we can during this difficult time.”
Selkirk MSP, John Lamont, added: “I know that the company, Scottish Enterprise and Textiles Scotland have offered to do what they can to help staff find alternative work as soon as possible and it is vital that the authorities work together to minimise the hardship caused by this news.”
Firewall saved lives – p10
More reaction – p11