Union warns of 'backlash' over threat to fire-and-rehire up to 300 workers at Banbury's coffee factory

Unite the Union has warned of a coffee-drinkers' backlash if 'fire and rehire' tactics are used against nearly 300 workers at the JDE coffee factory in Banbury.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 12:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 9:25 pm
The JDE coffee factory in Ruscote Avenue, Banbury

The union claims coffee lovers will be a 'key element' in the dispute because the firm's (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) reputation will be damaged 'due to its high-handed tactics'.

Unite said the nation’s coffee drinkers need confidence that the products - Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee - are produced by a firm with excellent ethical standards. The union claimed there is ‘a simmering managerial toxic culture’ at the Ruscote Avenue site which employs a diverse workforce.

Unite said its position arises from allegations made to the union after police were called to a 2019 Christmas party which was attended by some managers.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union

A JDE UK spokesperson said: 'We refute these allegations. We can confirm that an incident took place at a staff event on Friday, December 13 2019. Following a thorough joint investigation with the management team and union convener, the investigation was closed and the company's disciplinary processes were acted upon.

"At JDE, we take a zero-tolerance approach to any behaviour that falls below our standards and values. We strongly believe in providing a safe working environment for all our employees."

Unite’s members are currently voting on whether to take industrial action, with the option to strike, in response to the Dutch-owned company issuing notice of dismissal and engagement (known as 'fire and rehire' for 291 employees. The ballot closes on Thursday, April 15.

The workers’ anger has been fuelled by the financial results from the multi-national last month which reported ‘a record In-Home organic growth of 9.1 per cent in 2020’. This increase has been augmented by the boom in coffee drinking in the UK during the year-long pandemic.

The JDE spokesman said: "We appreciate some associates may find the changes difficult but there is an overwhelming need to reset Banbury’s manufacturing operations so we are competitive. We will compensate associates who are financially impacted, and the majority of associates will gain financially as a result of the latest proposed changes.

“We are disappointed the union has decided to ballot for industrial action at this early stage when we are still in collective consultation. We continue to urge the union committee to constructively participate in the consultation process and have asked ACAS (the conciliation service) to help us both reach an agreement that benefits our associates and the business.”

Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said: “Britain’s loyal army of coffee drinkers needs to have confidence that the household names they purchase during their weekly supermarket shop are produced by a firm with a good reputation in the way it treats its staff.

“Unfortunately, at present, Jacobs Douwe Egberts falls well below that benchmark as this highly-profitable multinational plans to ‘fire and rehire’ its workforce during a global pandemic - this leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is the dregs when it comes to employment relations.

“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."

Mr Clarke said Unite had also detected 'a simmering toxic culture by management' following incidents at the 2019 Christmas party attended by managers which required attendance by 'our hard-pressed police'.

“We believe that the callous ‘fire and rehire’ plans are another manifestation of this culture.

“Unite reiterates its call for constructive talks with the management on the plant’s future, before JDE suffers a consumer backlash and their products remain on the supermarket shelves because coffee lovers are angry at the treatment of these dedicated employees.”

Unite has raised the flag warning of an outbreak of ‘fire and rehire’ disputes across the UK as unscrupulous employers look to exploit workers using Covid-19 as an excuse.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Fire and rehire' is ripping through our workplaces like a disease. Weak law lets bad bosses force through brutal changes to contracts, sometimes taking thousands of pounds off wages that families need to get by.

"It's a disgraceful practice that's outlawed in much of Europe and should be here.

"Unite is fighting for UK workers to be treated with the same decency. We won't stop until the law is changed to protect working people from attack."