Banbury coffee factory workers have voted for a ballot on strike action over 'fire and rehire' plan

An overwhelming number of union members at Banbury coffee plant JDE have voted for a strike ballot over proposals that could lead to them being forced into being sacked and rehired.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Monday, 15th March 2021, 5:26 pm
JDE coffee factory in Ruscote Avenue, Banbury where 96 per cent of workers have voted to ballot over industrial action

Union chiefs this week cited 'excessive corporate greed' in a statement over JDE's wish to impose 'inferior' terms and conditions for workers when demand is higher than ever and profits increasing. But they said the union's door is 'wide open' for talks with management.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey called the move a 'despicable attack on workers' in a letter to the staff.

Last week's vote saw 96 per cent of the 291 workers affected opting to go forwards to an industrial action ballot over JDE's intention to fire and rehire the staff if they do not reach an agreement on new working terms and conditions within a set period.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, who has written a letter of support to workers at JDE, Banbury

In a statement today (Monday) Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today 'members voted by 96 per cent in a consultative ballot to hold a full-scale industrial action ballot, with the option to strike, in response to the Dutch-owned company issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees'.

"The workers’ anger has been fuelled by the financial results from the multi-national last week which reported ‘a record In-Home organic growth of 9.1 per cent in 2020’. This increase has been augmented by the boom in coffee drinking in the UK during the year-long pandemic," the union said.

"Unite’s members are also furious at the proposed changes to the company's pension scheme which will mean the ending of the final salary system and introducing an 'inferior' defined contribution scheme which will be subject to the vagaries of global stock markets."

No dates are yet available for when the ballot might be held for the Ruscote Avenue workforce.

Unite national officer for the food and drink industry Joe Clarke said: “Our members have voted by an impressive 96 per cent in a consultative ballot that they wished to have a full-scale industrial action ballot, including the option to strike, over the bosses’ plans to ‘fire and rehire’ them on inferior pay and employment conditions.

“Their determination has been reinforced by the financial results of the multi-national with strong growth helped by the British public’s insatiable appetite for coffee during the pandemic - and further growth is expected in 2021.

“Therefore there is no reason, except excessive corporate greed, why the Banbury bosses have adopted this immoral decision to adopt a ‘fire and rehire’ strategy in the midst of a global pandemic which will damage our members’ incomes and hit the wider Oxfordshire economy.

“To meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking during the last 12 months, the workforce at Banbury has worked flat out supplying the nation with Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee.

“Unite’s door is open 24/7 for constructive talks with the management on the plant’s future.”

In a letter of support to the workforce, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The recent notice of fire and rehire from JDE in Banbury is a despicable attack on our hard-working key workers who have committed themselves so tirelessly throughout this Covid crisis, under extremely difficult circumstances, supplying the nation with coffee throughout the UK.

“This is an opportunist attack on our members’ pay and conditions, our members and their families have been through enough hardship over the past 12 months without having to deal with this unethical and immoral behaviour.”

Rob Williams, JDE Banbury Plant Director, said: “We remain ready to meet with the union committee and continue to urge them to constructively participate in the consultation process to reach a mutual agreement that benefits both our associates and the business.”

A spokesman said the ballot was not a formal ballot for industrial action but an informal ballot to gauge support for a formal ballot for industrial action.

She said the union had not shared the number of employees taking part part with the company so it was unable to comment on this. Formal industrial action is governed by UK industrial action laws, she said and must relate to a dispute with an employer, be supported by a secret postal ballot with independent scrutiny and be carried out with notice.

JDE said in a recent story in the Banbury Guardian the changes are necessary for the company to maintain competitiveness with other producers and with other JDE plants around the world.