Talks held in a bid to avert tomorrow's (Wednesday) three-day strike at Banbury's coffee factory 'have failed'

Talks held in a bid to avert tomorrow's (Wednesday) three-day strike at the JDE coffee factory have failed, the Banbury Guardian understands.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 4:38 pm
A demonstration outside the JDE coffee factory on Saturday

Information received at the newsdesk say workers will continue the strike as part of continuing action against 'fire and rehire' tactics being used by Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) to lower staff costs and, they say, improve competitiveness.

This week's talks started yesterday (Monday) and it was understood JDE would offer to delay issuing of the Section 188 'fire and rehire' notices until next week. It is believed Unite the Union, acting for the Banbury 300 affected by the changes to their contracts, have not agreed to lift the strike without an unconditional removal of the notices.

The Banbury Guardian understands Wednesday's strike will go ahead, with staff affected being reminded of their obligations with regard to picketing the Ruscote Avenue plant peacefully. The overtime ban will continue.

Under Section 188 employment practice, if workers concerned do not accept new contracts, they are dismissed and offered re-employment on the new terms. Unite the Union and other trades unions and many politicians including Sir Keir Starmer have called for the fire and rehire practice to be banned as it is in some European countries.

Last week, after 85 days of strike, bus drivers in Manchester won their fight to persuade their bosses to abandon plans to fire and rehire nearly 500 workers.

JDE says it needs to impose the new working terms and conditions - which include changes to shifts (meaning some day staff would have to work nights), changes to public holiday allowances, loss of paid meal breaks and more. The factory's traditional defined benefit pension scheme - used for 50 years by General Foods, Kraft and other owners of the factory - are to be replaced by a contributory scheme in July, costing employees and saving the company millions of pounds a year.

The proposed changes apply to those who work shift patterns and include operators, technicians, and shift leaders - not management. Former MP Sir Tony Baldry, a barrister, has advised the union to seek a judgement on this at the High Court, saying Section 188 is meant to be for companies struggling financially. JDE announced increases of turnover last year amid soaring demand because of lockdowns.

JDE said: " “We are confident that the business case is robust and maintain that the process has been appropriate and in accordance with the legal requirements.”

The company says it wants to reset working practices that have 'not changed in decades'. Part of the plans include moving from eight shift patterns to two shift patterns and resetting other terms and conditions, simplifying pay grades. They describe it as offering a fair reward system for all associates.

In a statement yesterday JDE said: “Our intention remains to come to an agreement with Unite that benefits both our associates and the business. We have been talking to Unite and our associates since 2019 about resetting working practices at Banbury... because the factory is not competitive compared to others.

"Our proposals do not include any redundancies and the current proposals see the majority gain financially with compensation for those who are financially impacted.

"We began informal discussions with the union in January 2021 which then moved into a formal legal consultation process. As we were unable to reach agreement during these initial periods of consultation, we then moved into individual consultation with our associates. The final date for impacted associates to sign up to new proposed terms and conditions was May 17. We have not issued any letters of dismissal and re-engagement at this time and we are now in a period of reflection.

“We fully appreciate these changes may be difficult for some of our associates. We do not propose them lightly but strongly believe they are needed to secure a future for Banbury.”

In the meantime Unite said JDE has lost an estimated six million jars of coffee production – or 300 million cups of coffee – as a result of industrial action over its ‘fire and rehire plans’.

Unite said production at the Ruscote Avenue site was being ground down and warned of possible coffee shortages on UK supermarket shelves of the company’s top brands, such as Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee. Unite estimates loss of production amounts to 600 tonnes, equating to six million jars or the equivalent of 300 million cups of coffee. The union calculates the financial loss, so far, at £18 million.

A JDE spokesperson said: ““The claims made about production are incorrect. We hope we can reach an agreement but are confident we can continue to supply our products.”