SEVENTY-ONE workers were told their contracts had ended just an hour after reporting for their shift.
Temporary staff at Caterpillar, in Peterlee, were yesterday told to go home shortly after the start of their shift.
Agency staff at the plant, which makes heavy goods vehicles, were left “devastated” when they were told they were being laid off just months after starting work there.
They had hoped their temporary contracts would eventually lead to full-time employment with the American-run company.
Caterpillar, based on North West Industrial Estate, in Peterlee, announced a £5m investment just last month and revealed plans to recruit 100 staff.
Bosses at the plant blamed a downturn in the global market for yesterday’s decision, while one axed worker said he was “devastated” by the news.
The worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “I am gutted that I have lost my job.
“After all the searching I have done to find a job, and the good reputation Caterpillar has, you instantly have good thoughts.
“Normally you hear nothing but good coming from the company and that they are always taking staff on as one of the major employers in the region.
“But now it is back to the drawing board and probably back to the job centre.”
Caterpillar spokesman David Nixon said: “The economic and business environment that we are experiencing is different today from what we anticipated earlier in the year.
“After a good start to 2012, projected production volumes for our products are lower than we previously expected.
“Economic growth and demand from customers around the world has not reached anticipated levels.
“The ongoing Eurozone problems, and the looming financial uncertainty in the US have dampened business and consumer confidence.
“As a result of these factors, Caterpillar Peterlee is releasing 71 temporary workers employed by Randstad, who previously performed roles throughout the factory.”
Despite yesterday’s bleak news, management at the firm still predict a bright future in the long-term.
Mr Nixon added: “Caterpillar remains very positive about the long-term prospects for global growth and the activities described above are short term actions that are required to align production to current demand levels.”