A BOSS today admitted his staff are "devastated" at plans to close a South Tyneside factory after more than 80 years.
Almost 100 workers at Trench UK, Hebburn, were sent home by management yesterday after receiving the shock news that they faced redundancy.
The workforce is angry about plans to switch work to sister plants in France, Germany and China, after they hit all their production targets.
Formerly The Bushing Company, in South Drive, the site was once part of the Reyrolle switchgear empire, which employed 10,000 people in Hebburn in its heyday, more than 40 years ago.
But new owners Siemens say they plan to axe the factory, with the loss of 96 jobs, because of over-capacity in the market for the high-voltage bushings made at the plant.
In a frank interview with the Gazette, Trench UK managing director Mike Galley said: "All the staff are devastated at this news.
"The Bushing building has been here for 81 years, and we have employees with between 28 and 45 years' service, most from South Tyneside.
"We sent the staff home after yesterday's announcement, to give them time to absorb the news."
Mr Galley revealed that Trench UK enjoys "a very healthy" order book, with work lined up well into the first quarter of 2011.
"This is a very successful company and this news has come out of the blue for the workforce.
"I am one of the 96 people affected by the announcement, so I'm not sure about my own position in the future.
"But I'm convinced of the commitment of our human resources division to help make other work available within the company, and some of our workers may be able to relocate."
Mr Galley added that the relative health of the Hebburn plant was underlined by the fact that 80 per cent of its products are made for export.
The proposed closure of the plant is set to be concluded next year, but Mr Galley could not provide any details on when redundancies will take effect.
Parent firm Siemens, which employs about 2,000 people in the region, plans to consolidate future production at its plants in Germany, France and China.
The move follows a review of world markets for high-voltage bushings by the Siemens Group, which concluded that changes were necessary to maintain the company's competitive edge.
Siemens Transmission and Distribution Ltd, at Monkton Business Park South and Siemens Protection Devices Ltd, in North Farm Road, both Hebburn, are not affected by the announcement.
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