Banbury coffee factory 'the most cost-effective plant' but fire and rehire plan would cut bonuses and lower conditions, say sources inside the plant

New 'fire and rehire' conditions would remove bonuses and give workers worse working conditions, sources in the JDE factory said on the eve of a public demonstration and an overtime ban, starting tomorrow (May 1).

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 9:51 am
JDE coffee factory in Banbury where workers begin industrial action tomorrow (Saturday)

The workers' union, Unite, prepares for its first public demonstration at all gates of the Jacobs Douwe Egberts' factory on Southam Road and Ruscote Avenue tomorrow (Saturday) at 10.30am. 24-hour strikes are planned for May 8-9, 15-16 and a three day strike from May 26 - 29.

Sources close to the Ruscote Avenue plant say the Banbury factory makes as much coffee in a 12-hour shift as other JDE factories take a week to make, in spite of the plant having out-dated and obsolete equipment.

JDE maintains the Banbury factory is 'significantly more expensive to run compared to other factories within the JDE network' and that there is an 'overwhelming need' to reset manufacturing at the plant.

The JDE coffee factory, formerly Mondelez and Kraft, on Ruscote Avenue which makes coffees including Kenco

The factory sources say with the contracts JDE wishes to have accepted, they would lose traditional Christmas and bank holiday pay rates which would become 'flat rate', breaks would be unpaid and limited to 30-minutes, giving workers no opportunity to leave the site.

And they say management, worried that contracts with supermarkets may not be met because of the industrial action may breach JDE's insurance policies by management taking on inexperienced agency staff.

One source told the Banbury Guardian that a particular danger is use of ammonia (a toxic chemical used in making freeze dried coffee) which workers say takes years of experience to use safely. Currently, only experienced operators are allowed to operate in this area.

"JDE believes agency staff are capable of undertaking this without the years of experience of current operators. There is a danger of JDE breaking or breaching its own insurance policies by taking on inexperienced agency staff," said one source.

A JDE UK spokesperson said: “Our priority is to always operate in a way that protects everyone’s health and safety. Anyone running equipment will have the necessary official training and qualifications.”

Under the Section 188 'fire and rehire' practice, JDE has put staff under a 45-day consultation on new contracts. If they do not accept these, they will be dismissed and re-employed, if they wish, on the new contracts. The practices are under scrutiny and there was a debate on their use at Westminster last week.

One of the sources told the Banbury Guardian: "The workforce feels traumatised and some are suffering mental distress. Resignations are increasing because of the pressure.

"JDE is saying it has enough stock to manage orders but it may be breaking contacts with big supermarkets because of possible inability to supply the products on time. In order to try to ensure production JDE is offering extra inducements to operators."

JDE's spokesman said: “We hope we can reach an agreement that benefits our associates and the business but are confident we can continue to supply our products in the event of industrial action. What you refer to as ‘inducements’ are usually referred to as ‘one-off payments’ and is common practice."

Another source said: "The HR director in Amsterdam has stated fire and rehire (S188) practice is not set in stone. JDE is now cancelling pre-booked holiday of staff members on the grounds of 'needs of the business'.

JDE said it was not banning summer holidays but each application needs to be approved depending on the impact they will have on the business.

The source said: "Currently staff can accrue three days' holiday by arriving early and handing over to the next shift because of the complications involved in the equipment handover. The company wants to end this benefit.

"JDE is wanting a doctor’s note for the first day of sickness - against the normal expectation of a note after seven days' sickness. Staff laughed when they saw this, given the near-impossibility of getting a same-day doctor's appointment.

"They propose a four-shift pattern forcing staff to work 12-hour shifts, nights, weekends etc. Those potentially hardest hit may lose thousands of pounds a year and most of their benefits. Even those offered days (8am - 4pm) or double days (6am - 10pm) would lose out because of unpaid breaks, flat-rate overtime and no payments for bank holidays.

"JDE has refused to sit down with our union (Unite) and ACAS (the conciliation service). Management is offering double-time overtime for anyone willing to contravene the overtime ban.

"A lot of people feel the argument for change is not for business purposes but because the the union stood up to the Director's attempts to break collective bargaining agreements and bypass the union. There is a belief in 60 per cent production personnel and 40 per cent administration, revealed in statistics of six managers per operator, which some believe does not make sense in the light of a need to 'reset' for profitability."

In response to the allegations a JDE UK spokesperson said: “We appreciate change is difficult but it is needed for Banbury to be sustainable for the future.

“We started the S188 legal process in February because informal consultations with the union did not progress. Unfortunately, during the 45-day formal collective consultation under the S188, the union did not attend and the process concluded.

"This is why we have asked ACAS to help us reach an agreement and mitigate any industrial action. There is a role for everyone and the proposals do not include any redundancies within the manufacturing unit.

“We are now in individual consultation with associates so they can decide the best way forward individually. We continue to urge everyone to constructively work together and discuss the terms of our latest proposals which have been revised to reflect associate feedback. We appreciate some associates may find the changes difficult and are providing targeted support for everyone involved.”