The company will start to wind down the Leeds plate production facility from Q3 this year, with a view to production ceasing completely in mid- to late-2015.
According to Unite, the closure will result in 210 job losses, some in the summer and the remainder next year.
“I appreciate that this is a difficult news for anyone employed at the plant, but it comes from the fact that we are able to and are investing significantly in our manufacturing capacity in factories across the world,” said Kodak EAMER regional managing director Philip Cullimore.
Cullimore said that the company is currently investing in its US facilities and has recently completed upgrades to the Sonora lines at its main European site, the Osterode facility in Germany, and also its site in Xiamen, China.
“The idea is that we have a standardised [plate] manufacturing footprint in each region and because of that, right now in Europe we manufacture certain products that are exported to Latin America, the US and Asia that will be migrating to local facilities and that means that in Europe we will soon have some overcapacity,” he said.
Staff were told of the closure yesterday morning (3 March). Cullimore said that the company wanted to give the employees as much notice as possible over the closure of the site to enable them to plan for the future.
“It’s sad news. But we have a severance package that is I think generous and part of us giving this early warning to employees over our decision [to close Leeds] over the course of the next year is a signal that we want give employees the time to plan work though what I know will be a difficult period.”
However, Unite has criticised Kodak for effectively deciding to close the facility before consulting with the union or staff.
“This has just landed today and it’s not something we’re given any indication was coming. I’m genuinely concerned about the nature of the announcement, because it sounds like the decision is all but made,” said Unite national officer Chris Daly.
“For the guys on the ground this news is devastating… while no one was thinking that change wouldn’t happen, that doesn’t mean that closure was at the top of anyone’s considerations.”
Daly said that the union accepts that there is overcapacity in Europe, but that he believed the Leeds facility was profitable and the announcement “created more questions than it had answers”.
The union is pressing for an urgent meeting with Kodak management.
Cullimore said the company was planning to meet with employee representatives in the near future to make the closure programme “as palatable as is possible for the people affected”, but he implied that closure was inevitable due to the changes in Kodak’s global manufacturing portfolio.
“The story here is one of significant investment in a market that we are absolutely committed to, unfortunately this time around the investment has not been in the UK but other places,” he added.
According to Cullimore, much of the Kodak plates used in the UK already come from Germany, which he described as “one of the most advanced plate manufacturing sites in the world” and he said that with the UK’s existing warehousing facilities “there will be no impact on UK customers in terms of lead times or logistics”.
Kodak emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last autumn. Following the sale last September of its consumer and document imaging business to the UK Kodak Pension Plan (KPP) as part of its emergence, which included the transfer of the photographic paper manufacturing site in Harrow, the closure of Leeds represents the end of UK manufacturing for the ‘new’ Kodak.
Kodak Alaris, the company created by KPP, continues to manufacture photo papers at the Harrow site.