Banbury coffee factory workers say MP's vote against changing Fire and Rehire law is 'shameful'

Workers at the JDE coffee factory in Banbury have described constituency MP Victoria Prentis' vote against outlaw 'fire and rehire' legislation as shameful.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 2:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 2:43 pm

The workers ran a long series of strikes earlier this summer in a bid to prevent Jacobs Douwe Egberts coffee factory bosses using the controversial Dismissal and Re-engagement process to lower their terms and conditions.

Their efforts were unsuccessful and the company imposed new contracts on those who decided to stay at JDE. These included introduction of 12-hour shifts for some workers, which they claim are causing sickness and stress.

Now staff say they are angry that Banbury MP Mrs Prentis has voted against a Bill to outlaw the use of fire and rehire, which is currently causing protests at supermarkets around the country as Weetabix engineers fight to protect their own working conditions.

Barry Gardiner MP launched his Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill at the JDE coffee factory in Banbury

Mrs Prentis said today (Tuesday) she believed the use of fire and rehire by JDE was an action of 'last resort' when negotiations between the company and Unite the Union broke down. She said the Bill was never intended to outlaw fire and rehire but to provide additional safeguards for workers.

Mrs Prentis was one of 255 MPs to vote against banning the practice with 188 MPs voting in favour of the change. The Bill was launched by Barry Gardiner MP outside the Banbury JDE factory in June, as reported by the Banbury Guardian.

One supporter of the factory workers said on the Banburyshire Info social media site on Friday: "Completely shameful that Tory MPs voted to prevent the Fire & Rehire Bill - full title: Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill - going through Parliament yesterday, designed to prevent workers being held to ransom by their bosses, as happened at JDE.

"During the strikes at JDE, Victoria Prentis MP posted on her Facebook page saying how much she supported those workers."

The JDE coffee factory in Banbury where the controversial 'fire and rehire' process resulted in workers' terms and conditions being changed, for the majority, against their will

Another source said: "After the industrial action JDE has seen people leaving in droves and sickness has increased by 40 per cent due to workers being unable to work the horrendous 12-hour shifts. Some people of 40 years service forced out. Coffee production is down by 60 per cent - they can't make it due to lack of skilled labour."

Mrs Prentis issued the following statement: "The use of fire and rehire practices has come into sharp focus in recent months locally following negotiations between Jacob Douwe Egberts and its Banbury employees.

"Throughout the process, it was clear to me that fire and rehire was not being used as a negotiating tactic but rather as a genuine last resort following the breakdown of talks between the Union and JDE management.

"While it was disappointing that Section 118 notices had to be served to some employees at the start of the summer, these were revoked when negotiations resumed and an agreement was reached. I was relieved for all involved that a satisfactory resolution could be found after a difficult and uncertain few months for employees and their families. It is entirely for JDE to comment on how the current situation rests now.

"Given our experience in Banbury, I had been following the progress of Barry Gardiner's Private Member's Bill closely. He used his visit to JDE earlier on in the year to launch the Bill, speaking of his desire to ensure that fire and rehire is not used inappropriately as a negotiating tactic or threat to employees facing redundancy, rather than as an ultimate last resort.

"However, as Barry himself made clear on Friday: the aim of the Bill was never to ban fire and rehire outright; rather, it was to provide additional safeguards for workers facing dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions. I know from my discussions with Employment Minister, Paul Scully, that the Government is already working on this without turning to new primary legislation."

Mrs Prentis' full statement can be found on her website: www.victoriaprentis.comThe Banbury Guardian asked JDE for confirmation of the claims made about staff sickness, resignations and lower coffee production and received the following statement: “The new working practices at our factory in Banbury came into effect in early September to secure a strong future for the factory. Since then, we’ve been regularly talking to our associates about how we can deliver that brighter future.”