Axe Falls on Jobs at Forfar Based Don & Low

At least 70 jobs face the axe at a Tayside textile firm that has been at the forefront of creating PPE in Scotland.

Forfar-based Don & Low is supplying material to make one million protective gowns, masks and respirators for NHS Scotland.

But bosses say the growing need for medical materials has coincided with a slump in demand for their woven products.

It will mean a loss of 100 jobs in technical textiles but 30 new roles will be created in the non-woven division of the company, which is one of Forfar’s largest employers and has had a presence in the town for 100 years.

It comes just a month after the Scottish Government agreed to provide the business with up to £3.6 million towards a specialised machine for the production of material to be used in respirators, costing £4.5 million.

Don & Low director Colin Johnson said investment to restructure the business had been taking place for the last two years but this has been “accelerated” by the coronavirus pandemic and a spike in demand for PPE and medical equipment.

“As the business environment is changing, it is necessary to keep transforming the operations by investing in new technologies to ensure the longevity of the company,” he said.

“The decision to reduce the size of the workforce in the wovens part of the business has not been taken lightly, however, it should be seen in the context of an investment programme of around £40m that continues to create additional jobs on the nonwoven side of the business.

“The end position for the company is that the investments will provide overall growth in production capacity geared towards product ranges in growing markets that will secure the future of the company and its employees.”

A 45-day consultation period with staff has begun. A company spokesman said he was “as confident as he can be” that the 30 new jobs will be filled by transferring current staff.

“We will be making all of the employees aware of the details of the new jobs,” he said.

“I am as confident as I can be at this stage that we will fill all of these new jobs by means of redeployment.

“That is certainly our intention.”

Davie Lawson, regional officer for Unite the Union, said it was a “very sad day” for the area.

“There’s generations of families that have worked here so it’s hard to take,” he said.

“It’s a case of working through it and saving as many jobs as we can through redeployment.”

He added that Don and Low had been transparent throughout.

“It just seems the work isn’t there,” he said.

“I don’t have a crystal ball but I get the sense this may not have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic. It seemed like things were picking up for them earlier this year.

“It won’t just be Don and Low, there will be other companies. I think it’s the calm before the storm. Once furlough payments aren’t available it’s going to be very tough.”

In March, Don and Low bosses made the decision to close the woven textile arm of its business but dedicated remaining staff to producing PPE.

Shortly after it was announced the firm had been awarded a Scottish Government contract to supply 2.8 million square metres of material for protective gowns.

Recently,First Minister Nicola Sturgeon highlighted Don & Low as a company which had diversified to help supply much-needed PPE, adding that she was “very grateful” to the firm, and others across Scotland, for manufacturing the materials.

Angus SNP MP Dave Doogan said: “It is clearly a challenging time when job losses are announced and I have spoken with Don & Low to seek further clarity.

“It is of course disappointing that posts will be reduced in technical textiles but encouraging that at least 30 new posts, and hopefully more, will be created in the nonwovens side. I am optimistic that posts may be reduced as far as possible on a voluntary basis with partnership working between management, the trade union and workforce.

“Having spoken with the company at length I am hopeful that the continued investment in new technology in Forfar will help safeguard these vital local jobs well in to the future.”

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