Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ford must bear responsibility for Visteon pensioners

Stephen Metcalfe with members of the Visteon
Pensioners Action Group

“Ford has a moral responsibility for the Visteon pensioners”, that was the verdict of a group of MPs yesterday during a Westminster Hall Debate.

Members of Parliament from across the Country and from across the political spectrum convened in Westminster Hall to discuss the plight of Visteon pensioners and to encourage Ford Motor Company to exercise its duty of care to its former employees.

Visteon was the automotive parts division of Ford Motor Company that was spun off from Ford in 2000.  The UK arm (Visteon UK) subsequently went into administration in 2009 resulting in the loss of over 500 jobs and leaving many ex-employees with either reduced or frozen pension rights.

In support of the pensioners, earlier this year an APPG was established with a view to looking at the background of the collapse of Visteon, the effect it had on its pensioners and ex-employees and to look at whether Ford has a duty of care to its ex-employees.

Under the separation terms, Visteon employees were promised mirrored terms and conditions and ‘lifetime protection’ of their pensions. But, when the company went into administration in 2009 it emerged that many would have heavily reduced pension rights – sometimes up to a staggering 45%.

Despite being ‘spun off’, Visteon remained dependent on Ford for 90% of its business and the Visteon employees received no new contracts. With many suspecting it had been set up to fail.

Recently the new CEO of Visteon Corporation in the US, Tim Leuliette, when asked “Did Visteon have a chance when it was spun off?” answered simply “NO. The labour cost issues, the burden and the overheads were just so out of line with the reality that it was almost comical.  It just wasn't going to work. And it didn't work.  I think we all knew that.  It was sort of like when you've got an uncle you know has got a problem but no one in the family wants to talk about it.”

Visteon UK failed to make a profit in any year of its existence. By the time it ceased trading, its debts totalled nearly $1 billion, leading many to suggest that the spin off was merely Ford dumping a liability whilst ensuring its own balance sheet remained clean.

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, who secured the discussion, said: “Anyone who has gone through the documents that the Visteon pensioners have been able to secure will see that there is a clear audit trail showing that Ford knew exactly what it was doing. It gave guarantees that it is now seeking to renege on.”

Geraint Davies MP for Swansea West and Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in support of the Visteon Pensioners, added, “Ford has a moral duty to make good the pensions of former Ford employees who were given assurances that their pensions would be protected. Instead their pensions had been underfunded and Ford has a duty to make good the shortfall.

“Ford needs to understand they cannot simply brush this matter under the carpet.

“It's important that the voices of British MPs are broadcast across US air waves so that Ford directors in the US understand their global brand reputation is being tarnished by their treatment of former Ford employees in Britain and must make good their duty of care by underwriting the pension shortfall they have responsibility for.”

South Basildon and East Thurrock MP, Stephen Metcalfe, Chairman of the APPG later commented: “This is about Ford doing the right thing. As I said in the debate, I have great respect for the company. It has a long and noble history in this country – but even the best businesses can make mistakes. Ford, in this instance has got it wrong and they must stand up and take responsibility for their actions. I will continue to fight until justice is served for the Visteon Pensioners.”

MPs are hoping that following the debate, a select committee investigation will take place. In the meantime, the APPG will continue its own enquiries into Ford’s failings in the hope that the Visteon Pensioners will one day get the pensions they are rightly entitled to.