Mayor's office investigating as company it backed with millions accused of poor staff treatment

Surface Transforms is a carbon ceramic brake manufacturer based in Kirkby
-Credit: (Image: Liverpool Echo)

City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram's office is investigating after a company it provided millions of pounds to was accused of poor treatment of workers.

Surface Transforms is a carbon ceramic brake manufacturer based at the Image Business Park in Knowsley. It was supported by a £13.2m loan from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in December 2023.

The loan, which came from the combined authority's Urban Development Fund, was made to allow the company to invest in new manufacturing facilities and increase its production capacity.

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Trade union Unite has made a number of allegations about working conditions at Surface Transforms. The union alleges that, in the past month, employees with less than two years’ service have been sacked for not agreeing to mandatory increases in working hours and they were told to work bank holidays at short notice.

Surface Transforms firmly denies the accusations, saying "it treats all employees with fairness and respect".

When presented with the allegations about Surface Transforms, a spokesperson for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said: “Loan awards from the Urban Development Fund are managed by an externally administered body in accordance with ERDF funding requirements. This facility was offered on commercial terms to support the company’s expansion and create new employment opportunities for local people.

“We are concerned by Unite’s allegations and will be investigating them as a matter of course. We will also be exploring how we can work with the fund manager to strengthen future loan and grant funding agreements to incorporate Fair Employment Charter practices. Mayor Rotheram's Fair Employment Charter is designed to drive up good employment practices and we strongly encourage all companies to sign up to it and act in accordance with its principles."

Although some Surface Transforms employees are Unite members, the company does not recognise trade unions.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Surface Transforms was given funding from the Urban Development Fund in December. Since then, it has embarked on a campaign of unfair sackings to intimidate its workers into compliance. Unite never accepts attacks on our members’ jobs, pay or conditions and we will use every tool at our disposal to fight for justice for these workers.

“Surface Transforms behaviour couldn’t be more at odds with the Liverpool City Region’s Fair Employment Charter.”

Ms Graham added: “Serious questions need to be asked over whether it is in breach of its Urban Development Fund loan terms.”

Regarding Unite's accusations, A Surface Transforms spokesperson told the ECHO: “Surface Transforms treats all employees with fairness and respect, ensuring a supportive and inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.

“Regarding these allegations, a team of approximately 30 employees proposed a working hours solution which required a temporary change to employees’ contracts, on review and consultation. The Company accepted the proposal then the team changed their minds.

“No employee was forced to sign new terms or work outside of their contract. A request was then made for flexible working as part of their standard terms of employment and was communicated with reasonable notice.

“Regarding dismissal of an employee, we follow well defined policies and would not dismiss anyone from the company for having less than two years’ service. If a dismissal occurs there will be specific reasons relating to a breach of the employee’s contract of employment and through investigation, review and communication on such matters directly with the employee decisions are made.

“Surface Transforms is a high tech, advanced manufacturer of carbon ceramic brake discs for numerous well-known car manufacturers across the world. Its world leading products are in high demand and we are growing rapidly. We have invested over £70m in R&D and scaling up operations and planning our further expansion at our factory in Knowsley. Our success has been delivered by our skilled employees who we value highly and whose numbers have tripled during the last three years to approximately 170 people.

“We prioritise health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace, do not use unstable or temporary contracts and have defined flexible working conditions. We offer training and development for all our staff resulting in high skilled, high paid jobs.

“We are an accredited Living Wage Employer with the Living Wage Foundation. We offer work experience, apprenticeships and have partnerships with two schools in the Liverpool city region and are part of the local back to work scheme.

“We support, listen and work with every member of staff to provide clear, coherent and courteous communication. We continuously engaged with our staff defining what is needed for the business. Our teams review, discuss and work collaboratively to create solutions that best achieve these needs.”

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