Workers at Banbury's coffee factory say a deal brokered between bosses and union is 'sleight of hand'

Staff at the JDE coffee factory in Banbury say a deal thrashed out between Unite the Union and company bosses is sleight of hand and has not taken Fire and Rehire off the table.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 2:31 pm
Updated Monday, 19th July 2021, 4:16 pm
JDE coffee factory where workers have been asked to vote for a package of new employment conditions

Unite the Union said it had negotiated a package 'that removes the management’s proposal to ‘fire and rehire’ staff'. But they did not reveal the details of the deal in their statement today (Monday). The Banbury Guardian has received a copy of a letter sent to workers by JDE listing improvements.

But workers - known as the Banbury 300 - who had been told they must accept lower terms and conditions or be sacked - say Fire and Rehire notices have not been lifted and workers will be sacked on September 12 if they do not sign. They accuse the union of 'sleight of hand' in a Tweet and say the deal is 'smoke and mirrors'

They cite a proposed change that appears to give staff an increase in their shift allowance, but has simultaneously takes the same amount off their basic hourly pay rate.

A Tweet sent by the Banbury30 group accusing Unite of 'smoke and mirrors'

One source told the Banbury Guardian: "Many at the factory feel the union has betrayed staff, negotiating with JDE before Fire and Rehire had been taken off the table.

"The workforce feels the union had a gun held to their heads. The pay offer and compensation is a whitewash. The workers believe this is smoke and mirrors. They have 'negotiated' a shift allowance (that they get for working unsociable hours) by 15p extra while taking 15p off the hourly pay.

"Around 200 of the 291 involved will lose out in this new deal. People who have never worked nights are going to be forced to. They are taking no consideration of the known effects of night shifts on people's health," the source said.

""The 'deal' makes provision for 23 exit packages but JDE had originally offered 46. At the moment more than 100 want to leave."

One of the demonstrations that took place before industrial action was suspended

Unite rep for the food industry, Joe Clarke, said during the last three weeks, the union has negotiated substantial improvements to rates of pay and to the shift premium.

"We've also made massive improvements in relation to compensation, giving workers 130 weeks compensation pay. This means making up the difference between the proposed new rate of pay and the old one for 130 weeks, softening the blow," he said.

"In addition, there will be decent long service awards - for every year's service, workers will get £50.

"We've increased the options for people to work double-days and the workforce will have a vote on two different shift patterns rather than one.

"In addition the union has got 24 of the company's points, relating to changes in terms and conditions, taken off the scope of the proposals - all beneficial terms and conditions that members will keep," said Mr Clarke.

"We are having a week of consultation with members, then there will be a two-week, democratic voting process. If the workforce accepts, then things will move on but if they vote against then we will go back to strike action."

Mr Clarke said because of laws relating to industrial action, the union would have to re-ballot members on the issue.

“I would like to pay heartfelt tribute to our members, their families and the wider Banbury community for the tremendous level of support and solidarity they have demonstrated during the course of this dispute – that support was a major contributor in obtaining the deal we now have and shows what can be achieved if working people stick together in adversity,” he said.

A JDE UK spokesperson said: “We are pleased to have reached a deal with the union which our associates will now be asked to vote on through the union’s ballot process. We recognise this has been a difficult time for them and their families and appreciate their patience throughout the process. Change is needed at Banbury manufacturing and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached that secures the future of the factory.”

The JDE dispute became the focus for the launch of a political debate about the use of Fire and Rehire tactics. MP Barry Gardiner introduced his early day motion at the factory on June 14.

The dispute included a damaging three-day strike which severely hampered production of coffee which is sold in Britain and exported abroad.