MP calls on Banbury to support campaign to see 'fire and rehire' ended as he launches Parliamentary Bill at the town's troubled coffee factory

A senior Labour MP launched a major national campaign against 'fire and rehire' practices in Banbury today (Monday) and offered support to striking JDE coffee factory workers.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 5:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 5:39 pm

Barry Gardiner called on opponents of the controversial employment mechanism to be the force behind his campaign to end the practice.

Meanwhile Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said the Government has always been clear that the use of fire and rehire tactics as part of negotiations is not acceptable.

Workers who refused to sign new contracts at Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) coffee factory in Ruscote Avenue have been given 'fire and rehire' notices putting them under 12 weeks' notice of dismissal with the option of being re-employed if they agreed to the new terms and conditions, which staff said would offer less favourable working conditions and in some cases loss of thousands of pounds in pay.

Barry Gardiner, MP, chose Banbury to launch his campaign against fire and rehire tactics
Barry Gardiner, MP, chose Banbury to launch his campaign against fire and rehire tactics

Some 290 staff, dubbed the Banbury 300, were asked to agree contract changes and accept different pension provisions, which would save the Dutch-owned company millions of pounds a year. Some capitulated while others, led by Unite the Union, have taken industrial action in the form of an overtime ban and several one-day strikes with one three-day stoppage.

Launching his Parliamentary Bill - to be introduced in the House of Commons on Wednesday - Mr Gardiner told the assembled workers: "What's happening to you is wrong. It's as simple as that and they know it. And it's not just here in Banbury this is happening but up and down the country in the biggest names in British industry, Tesco, Sainsbury's, British Gas, British Airways, Heathrow.. We're talking about thousands of workers and their families were being told 'you're fired'. You can only have your job back if you accept lower pay and worse terms worse conditions. That's not nice.

"My bill is about saying, you can't just fire somebody and then offer them their job. My Bill is going to say let's start with talking to each other with negotiation, with consultation. I'm hearing stories today, people telling me they've been working here for 37 years, that their families have worked here, their parents have worked here their children have worked here. And yet, what's the loyalty that they have given back to you. It's not there and it's not right.

"So my Bill in parliament is about putting an end to them. We've got a hundred MPs from every single party in parliament who are supporting our Bill."

Barry Gardiner MP outside the JDE factory on Ruscote Avenue, Banbury

Mr Gardiner asked the public to put pressure on MPs. He asked them to tell their communities what the consequences of fire and rehire could be - being unable to put children through university pr help them pay rent or raise deposits for homes. He asked them to post their photographs of the campaign onto the https://stopfireandrehire.org/ website.

Mr Gardiner said staff he had spoken to had opened his eyes to victimisation. "It's not just the fire and rehire but actually now making this a place that people are, for the first time in years, not comfortable to work in. But you can change the law by campaigning, getting out there, uploading your photos. Let's put the pressure on this government and let's make sure that we win," he said.

A JDE UK spokesperson said: "“We are aware of a campaign being launched today. As always, our focus is on the factory and negotiations with the union, which our door remains open for. We ask all involved to consider the proposals to reach an agreement that secures a future for the factory.

”We do not recognise the behaviour mentioned at today’s event. We take any concerns from our associates seriously and encourage all to feedback through the appropriate channels. We appreciate that change is difficult and are providing support for everyone involved. We urge everyone to work constructively together to reach an agreement that benefits both associates and the factory.

Barry Gardiner MP is introduced by Joe Clarke, food representative for Unite the Union

Offering support to the Bill, the Banbury GMB No 1 branch spokesman Stevie Robertson, said Banbury people needed to join the fight.

"Everybody in Banbury needs to be in this fight because today it's JDE workers; tomorrow it might be DHL workers, Encase or Bidvest. They're coming for you, they're coming for us all," he said.

Mrs Prentis issued a statement today that said it is disappointing that JDE had issued fire and rehire notices.

"My own view is that it is clearly in everyone’s interests to engage as energetically as they can with the negotiations. The Government has always been clear that the use of fire and rehire tactics as part of the negotiations process is not acceptable. A robust legal framework already exists which should ensure that employees are treated fairly.

Stevie Roberts of the Banbury GMB branch offers warnings about 'fire and rehire'

"In individual company disputes, the employee and employers should have conversations with the unions as a starting point. I have been told that the correct processes have been followed in the case of JDE Banbury. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has been involved throughout.

"The uncertainty of the situation is far from ideal; I would encourage both sides to come to the table as soon as possible to discuss the best way forward for all involved. I have already been in touch with, and will write to, the relevant BEIS Minister for his reassurances about the use of fire and rehire tactics.

"I have been meeting JDE regularly over the past few months to discuss the situation at the factory in Banbury. They have told me for some time now that negotiations would have to take place with their employees given the huge variation in terms and conditions which currently exist between workers at the factory, some of whom have worked there since it was General Foods. I realise it is a deeply worrying time for all those involved. Following discussions I have had with my constituents who are affected by the changes, I have raised specific issues, such as work place flexibility, Christmas and holiday patterns, with JDE management."

The crowd waiting for the arrival of Barry Gardiner MP for the launch of his Parliamentary Bill against fire and rehire
Victoria Prentis, Banbury MP, who has maintained discussions with JDE about the dispute