Further update - Banbury coffee factory bosses admit coffee production has halted by strike action but say other parts of the plant are operating

Managers at Banbury's coffee factory have clarified that coffee production at the plant has stopped today.

By Roseanne Edwards
Saturday, 8th May 2021, 3:08 pm
JDE workers with brollies hold a demonstration today (Saturday) outside the Ruscote Avenue main gate
JDE workers with brollies hold a demonstration today (Saturday) outside the Ruscote Avenue main gate

Their clarification came after a misunderstanding about whether claims made that there had been a 'shut down' had meant the entire factory had been brought to a standstill. The claims had referred to a halt within the coffee processing plant in which the Banbury 300 work.

The issue was cleared up by a Jacobs Douwe Egberts spokesman who said: "I... can confirm we are not producing coffee today although other areas of work in the factory still continue. As confirmed in the statement previously, our priority is always to operate our factory in a way that protects everyone’s health and safety."

The difference in interpretation over coffee processing came today (Saturday) as workers strike over controversial threats to dismiss and re-engage staff.

JDE workers demonstrate against 'fire and rehire' tactics being used by the company to cut costs and make the Banbury factory more competitive

JDE Jacobs Douwe Egberts said the company was confident it could continue to supply its products during industrial action.

Plant director Rob Williams said: "Our priority today, as it is every day, is to keep the factory operating in a way that protects everyone’s health and safety.”

A picket was staged at the gates of the factory on Ruscote Avenue and Southam Road, early this morning and Unite the Union members representing the Banbury 300, and their supporters, have been holding a Covid-secure demonstration, getting support from passing motorists, hooting their horns.

Sources said at the end of last week that a gradual slowdown of specialist machinery and boilers was taking place. In addition the processes involving control of various potentially dangerous gases and liquid acids have been carefully reduced, they said.

Unite the Union has coordinated industrial action at the Banbury coffee factory

The source said "It takes three days to shutdown the plant and another three to four days to bring it back up to full working order, but it can take longer because of all the possible problems. This will cost the company money in lost production. It's not just that coffee stops being produced but the packing process is affected."

The industrial action, organised by Unite the Union, began with an overtime ban a week ago. 24-hour strikes have been planned for today and another 24-hour period at the end of May.

The dispute has arisen because JDE has issued a Section 188 notice to 291 workers. This means that after consultatoin, they intend to dismiss and re-engage staff on a new contract - which the workers say will lose them money, change their work shifts and affect pensions - if the staff do not come to an agreement and willingly sign the new contracts.

Four hours of talks between the union and JDE, through ACAS the conciliation service, took place yesterday (Friday) but broke up without any agreement.

The union said: "As you can imagine we extremely disappointed with the continue company stance. Management continued to say they want a level playing field. However, their playing field was to continue issuing 'fire and rehire' but wanted us to to remove (industrial) action.

"They mentioned that they understand that people may be upset , even though they have caused this, however it’s their final decision. We offered to have a 'lock in' to resolve the dispute. They again refused. It is very clear that this management do not have any compassion for any of us"

However Mr Williams said the union had not been prepared to discuss JDE's latest proposals.

“It is a shame for our associates that the union were not prepared to discuss the latest proposals at the Acas meeting yesterday," he said. "We came to that meeting with an increased offer and we remain ready to negotiate at any point.

“We fully understand that change is difficult which is why we think it is important to provide clarity to our associates about next steps. It is, as it has always been, our intention to work with Unite and our associates but this is difficult when the union will not discuss the terms of the proposals. We strongly believe we need to make these changes to secure a future for the Banbury factory.

“The union has notified us of a 24-hour strike today and we are obviously disappointed that some associates have chosen to participate in industrial action but respect their right to do so."

Unite national officer for the food and drink industry Joe Clarke said: “ We had four hours of talks today (Friday 7 May) with the JDE management , but unfortunately, no agreement was reached. There are no plans for more talks, however, Unite’s door is always open for further negotiations.

“This means that the demo, following strict Covid-19 protocols, will take place outside JDE’s Ruscote Avenue site, Banbury OX16 2QU from 10.30 on Saturday, May 8. This coincides with the 24-hour strike between 7am on Saturday, May 8 and 7am on Sunday, May 9."

Last week the Banbury 300 Unite members received letters of support from Tanya Wills, Chair of Unite Community, Bucks, Oxon, Berks (BOB) Branch and from Stevie Robertson, Secretary of the GMB Banbury No 1 branch who said: "If what is happening to JDE Banbury is allowed to go unchallenged now, the same will be happening at other Banbury workplaces in the very near future."