Union threatens strike ballot if Banbury coffee factory does not back down over 'Dickensian fire and rehire' contract changes

The issue of contract changes for 291 staff at Banbury coffee factory JDE has gone to the top with Unite the Union boss, Len McCluskey poised to intervene.

It is understood Mr McCluskey has pledged to contact the company and Unite membership amid admissions by the union today (Thursday) that forcing the changes in contracts could lead to industrial action..

It is understood that two managers who are affected have resigned over the way long-standing staff have been treated. A source close to JDE said one would lose £10,000 as a result of the new contracts being sought by the company and some may lose up to £15,000.

The source described the action as 'shocking and humiliating' for a loyal workforce and Unite described the company's aims as 'immoral'. The Banbury Guardian lead on this story in a report on Tuesday.

JDE - formerly Mondelez and Kraft - where bosses hope to persuade staff to accept contract changesJDE - formerly Mondelez and Kraft - where bosses hope to persuade staff to accept contract changes
JDE - formerly Mondelez and Kraft - where bosses hope to persuade staff to accept contract changes

JDE has begun a Section 188 process with staff, hoping to get agreement to changes to their contracts in a bid, they say, to make the Banbury factory as competitive as others in the industry and within JDE.

In a media statement today Unite - Britain and Ireland's largest union - described the Dutch-owned company in issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees as ‘immoral’, especially given the dedication of the workforce as coffee drinking has soared in the UK during the year-long pandemic.

Unite is also angry at proposed changes to the company's pension scheme which will mean the ending of the final salary system and introducing an 'inferior' defined contribution scheme which will be subject to the fluctuations in global stock markets.

Unite said that the management had been seeking to erode employment conditions at Ruscote Avenue for some time but talks had been abandoned at the onset of coronavirus last year.

But the union said that the bosses had now ‘come back with a vengeance’ with plans which will hit the living standards of the workers and their families, as well as the wider regional economy.

Unite national officer for the food and drink industry Joe Clarke said: “The decision to adopt a ‘fire and rehire’ strategy in the midst of a global pandemic is immoral and we are launching a campaign, which could include a ballot for industrial action, to fight this attack on our members’ living standards.

“The company’s actions will also seriously damage the wider Oxfordshire economy as less money in pay packets will be fewer pounds to spend in the high street and hospitality outlets, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

“To meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking during the last 12 months, the workforce at Banbury has worked flat out supplying the nation with Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee.

“We restarted discussions in good faith in mid-January as the Covid-19 death toll reached its peak – there were more than 1,800 deaths on 20 January. Yet, this is the shabby way the company has repaid the loyalty of its workers who kept production running smoothly through the worst of times.

“They should be rewarding the workforce, instead of treating them in this Dickensian fashion," said Mr Clarke.

“These appalling proposals have been compounded by draconian changes to the pension scheme that will seriously undermine our members’ ability to retire in dignity with a decent income.

“We don’t accept JDE’s business case that the Banbury site does not compare well with other coffee producers or its sister plants globally - our members’ hard work, especially over the last year, is proof of that.

“Unite is prepared for constructive talks with the management on the plant’s future but the threat of ‘fire and rehire’ needs to be taken off the table for such negotiations to take place - goodwill needs to be shown.”

A spokesman for JDE said: "We urge the union committee to constructively participate in the consultation to reach a mutual agreement that benefits both our associates and the business."