Former MP Sir Tony Baldry urges Banbury 300 to take coffee factory company to High Court over fire and rehire
Former constituency MP and High Steward of Banbury, Sir Tony Baldry, says Unite the Union should take Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) to the High Court over fire and rehire threats to 291 of the Banbury workforce.
Sir Tony, a barrister, said Unite needed to test the use of Section 188 - in which workers are dismissed and re-engaged on inferior terms and conditions - because it targets only hourly-paid workers and JDE is not a company in serious financial difficulty.
The company says it is confident it has followed correct legal procedures.
He said: "It does seem very strange that, if a company needs to restructure for financial pressures, it only applies to the hourly-paid workers and the managers have absolutely no change of their pay, conditions or pensions. How can you argue the company is in difficulty if cost cutting is not applied to salaried staff?
"Unite the Union needs to test the legality of this in the High Court. There have to be criteria to demonstrate the company can't continue without reducing costs.
"The Banbury factory is a huge plant, millions have been invested in it over the years and what is the credibility of a company saying 'if we can't change employment conditions we will close it'. It simply is not credible assertion. And if JDE can do this what is there to stop any company anywhere in the country from saying 'unless we can fire and rehire we will close down'.
"This is a multi-million business paying dividends to shareholders and whose management are getting the same bonuses/pensions as before," said Sir Tony.
"These provisions for fire and rehire - Parliament must have introduced them to be used when a company was in financial difficulty and could only survive with across-the-board cuts. There's no evidence to suggest JDE is in financial difficulties. There doesn't seem to be a situation where employers can just assert that they need to do this - or what's to stop any other company doing the same.
"Unite is one of the largest trades unions in the country with employment lawyers skilled in employment law. I'd hope Unite would feel this is an issue to make a test case on. Otherwise for people working there, they just keep having these one day strikes and it doesn't lead to any resolution. On what legal basis is the company seeking to fire all its work force - without making them redundant - and then seeking to reemploy them on adverse terms?"
Sir Tony's points were reinforced by a source close to JDE who said: "Hourly paid operators are feeling discriminated against, as this fire and rehire is only being targeted at the employees not the management putting into question (Director) Rob Williams' argument that 'Banbury needs to reset'.
"Fire and rehire is supposed to be the whole of the workforce not just a section of the workforce, which is potentially breaking the S188 law."
A JDE spokesperson said: ‘’‘We are confident that that we have followed all correct legal procedures.”
Joe Clarke, Unite's representative for the food, drink and agriculture sector, said: "A test case in the High Court is under due consideration. The information is in the hands of our top lawyers. Fire and rehire is affecting one in ten of all workers in this country."
JDE sent out information last week praising Banbury staff for a significant rise in success and profits from Kenco and Tassimo coffees in 2020 with a 13.5 per cent growth in sales for Kenco and a 10.6 per cent growth for Tassimo. Bosses said they hoped the growth would continue in this year's figures.
Yesterday (Monday) Unite projected a 'End Fire and Rehire' banner over the Houses of Parliament. And colleagues at the JDE factory in Hemeling, Bremen, Germany sent a photo of their banner supporting the Banbury 300 in their industrial action.
The strikers have been running an overtime ban since May 1 and held a 24-hour strike on Saturday with another 24-hour strike this Saturday. These have been accompanied by demonstrations outside the main gates of the factory. The staff say production has been 'seriously reduced' by the industrial action.
* The next 24-hour strike takes place on Saturday from 7am with a demonstration outside the main gates from 10.30am.