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Sharp pain will be felt by job losses

Published date: 18 December 2013 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


 

JOB LOSS statistics always make for grim reading, particularly when they come so close to Christmas.

But unless you speak to the people affected, who face a scrabble for a placement elsewhere or the complicated process of applying for benefits, they remain just numbers.

For me, the Sharp factory on Llay Industrial Estate is different. It will never just be another number to add to the job losses tally.

That’s because the last full-time job I held before I joined NWN Media – the Leader’s parent company – was at the Sharp factory and I too was made redundant.

I joined the workforce in Llay in 2009 as a soldering operative. I’d never worked in a factory before and I was contracted through Gap Personnel in Flint, who called the job loss announcement ‘really sad’.

The agency furnished me with a polo neck but I had to supply my own steel-toecap boots which seemed heavy after years of shop and officewear.

The work-floor was as vast  as an airplane hangar.

Although there were several hundred people on shift at any one time, they were swallowed up by the cavernous building.

Just walking to the canteen and back could take 10 minutes.

I worked there for just four months, a very short time compared to some of the veteran workers who had been there for over a decade.

We worked long stand-up shifts – 12 hours with two 15 minute breaks and a half-hour break for food.

I was in the solar panel division, which is now to be axed, prepping the fragile crystaline silicone wafers to be set in the panel – and making sure the structure was correct.

Any cracks in the wafers or broken points in the metal would stop the panel from performing.

It wasn’t heavy work but it was physical.

We lifted sheets of glass, operated machinery and performed delicate soldering on slim strips of metal, using tools heated up to hundreds of degrees centigrade.

The place even smelled mechanical, of cleaning fluids and plastic.

We worked European shift patterns: Two 12-hour days followed by two 12-hour nights, plus any overtime we could take.

Nominally, you had four days off at the end of the shift cycle – but the first day would always be spent sleeping.

I worked with a mix of Polish, Portuguese and native-born colleagues and, despite the noise drowning out some conversation, we bonded fast.

People opened up on the nights, talking about relationships and ambitions.

My workmates taught me Polish swearwords, while the Brits traded un-PC jokes.

One woman from Wrexham told me she’d left school without GCSES and fended for herself since she was 15. Now in her mid-forties and suffering from ill-health, she was determined to last out the long shifts.

A Polish worker told me he only saw his young children, who lived a 1,000 miles away, twice a year.

He was caught in a catch-22 situation where he had to work to support those he loved – but could rarely spend time with them.

Others had weathered multiple redundancies at other companies, including some older local lads who remembered the closure of Brymbo Steelworks in the 90s and the decline of several local factories.

I got the impression that, in a more settled age, they would have been lifers.

These people had families dependent on them, or they were alone with no security net.

I was working on a fiddly bit of soldering when the Gap Personnel representative walked toward me carrying a clipboard.

I suspected my name was written on it but it was still a horrible feeling when she told me this would be my last shift.

There was nothing wrong with my standard of work, she said, but I was new and likely to begin a college course, and they didn’t want to lose an experienced, long-term staff member.

It’s more than a little sad that those experienced workers may not be long-term staff members for much longer.

Everybody hopes there is a reprieve but with current job loss trends, and with First Milk’s confirmation yesterday they are to press ahead with a factory closure which will see another 230 jobs go in Wrexham, the outlook looks bleak.

Share your views by emailing rhian.waller@nwn.co.uk.

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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