Banbury shoppers show the love with their car horns at a large demonstration at 'fire and rehire' factory - scores line Ruscote Avenue to garner support
Numerous supporters, including workers, their friends and family members, Unite the Union officials, Labour council candidates and members of the public held a Covid-secure, distanced protest outside all four JDE gates in Southam Road and Ruscote Avenue.
Their demonstration was against 'fire and rehire' tactics being used by Jacobs Douwe Egberts who want coffee production operators to accept new, tighter contracts. The company says there is an 'overwhelming need' to re-set manufacturing in Banbury to make the plant competitive.
However workers told the Banbury Guardian this week the factory was the most efficient at coffee production in Europe and the new contracts would lose them thousands of pounds a year and introduce inferior conditions.
Standing with his banner outside the main Ruscote Avenue gate, Unite full time convenor at the factory, Chris Moon, said: "Workers are going into one-to-one consultations and breaking down in tears because the money they're going lose could affect their mortgages. One was told he could downsize. It's absolutely disgraceful.
"I've been here 26 years, my father worked here before me. It's in our blood. We've always had a really good working relationship with the management team but in the last two to three years - since JDE came in - it's become extremely toxic.They don't want to work with us. We want to see this place stay for another 55 years but it just feels there is a systematic race to the bottom."
Joe Clarke, Unite representative for the food, drink and agriculture sector, said the union has lodged legal action against JDE for offering inducements to workers in a bid to 'buy them out of their contracts'. He said the union was having 'solidarity discussions' with its counterparts in Germany and Holland this week where staff are considering an overtime ban across Europe.
"The overtime ban starts (in Banbury) today; on May 8 we have full-blown strike action starting and we're keeping the pressure on. We're meeting the company with ACAS (the conciliation service) on Friday - we've finally got them to meet us face-to-face. Hopefully we can break their resolve," he said.
"This demonstration has been well-attended; we have a ring of steel around the plant. We've had every member of the workforce put letters in objecting to the changes."
Mr Clarke said the union would be advising the workers not to sign to accept new contracts. He said there was some time to go until that happened, possibly August when JDE intended to implement the new contracts giving time for negotiations.
JDE said last week that ‘one-off payments’ were common practice.
Barry Richards, Unite member, retired works convenor and was, until the current local election period, Labour councillor for the Ruscote ward in which JDE is located, said: "This is symptomatic of employers taking advantage of the Covid situation and once again making the workers pay and not the owners of the factory - which is still making a reasonable profit.
"The Government has got to stop this 'fire and rehire' practice. It is a determined effort by employers to undermine people's conditions and standards of living."
Mr Richards said he did not think the threat made by some politicians that the company might take production out of the UK - thus losing jobs - was a fair one.
"I think if employers think they can make more profit by doing that they will do it anyway," he said.
Updated to include a comment from JDE. A JDE UK spokesperson said: “We are obviously disappointed that some associates have chosen to take part in protests today but respect their right to make their voices heard.
We encourage associates to also share their views on the terms of the proposals through the official consultation process. We appreciate change is difficult but we have always been clear there is an overwhelming need to reset Banbury’s manufacturing operations to safeguard the factory for the future.”