Updated - a row has broken out about filming of demonstrators during Saturday's strike, held in protest at fire and rehire
Demonstrators, including members of the Banbury 300 who are challenging forced changes to their contracts, wanted to know why management were recording their protest. They feared individuals were being identified but were also concerned that GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation to protect privacy) was not being met in the light of adults and children present who were not members of the workforce.
But in a statement on Monday a spokesman for JDE said: "We’ve investigated the complaint and are confident that there has not been a breach of GDPR in relation to filming in a public space.
"The person documenting the picket did so for reasons of personal safety following some instances of intimidatory behaviour towards some of our associates which amounts to lawful and legitimate use while crossing a public picket. The safety of our associates is of the utmost importance and we would remind everyone involved in the process to discuss the proposals in a professional and responsible manner.”
A union source said: "We are not aware of any intimidation at all...some who went in are members of Unite the Union and some aren’t but all benefit from our collective agreements. We have been very clear to all demonstrating to act professionally and not give any reason to be pulled up. Even if they believed there was a reason to film, surely they should inform individuals prior to doing so.
"There seems to be a real atmosphere of panic within the JDE management."
The Banbury 300's strikes - which include a 72-hour stoppage next week - are in protest at JDE's use of the controversial 'fire and rehire' process to force hourly-paid workers to accept new contracts on inferior conditions.
Joe Clarke, Unite's representative for the food, drink and agriculture sector said: "We are taking legal advice about filming of the demonstration."
Rob Williams, Banbury Plant Director, said: “We are disappointed that some associates have chosen to participate in a 24-hour strike today (Saturday) but respect their right to do so. The factory remained operational but not running at its usual capacity. We are confident we can continue to supply our products.
“We remain ready to negotiate with Unite but this is difficult when the union will not discuss the terms of the proposals. We encourage our associates to review our latest offer which sees the majority gain financially and provides compensation for those who are financially impacted. We strongly believe we need to make these changes to secure a future for the factory and hope we can reach an agreement.”
Sources say the Ruscote Avenue production plant is not running because of the overtime ban which has affected cover in the boiler house. They said the company had been losing £50k an hour in coffee production since last Friday. The Banbury Guardian has highlighted claims of 'serious reduction' in coffee since the industrial action began.
A JDE UK spokesperson said: “The claims made about production are incorrect. The factory is running and we are confident we can continue to continue to supply our products. We hope we can reach an agreement that benefits both our associates and the business.”
They also said if workers affected by the fire and rehire notice do not sign their new contracts by today (Monday) a 12-week dismissal notice will be served tomorrow (Tuesday). JDE said: "As part of the S188 legal process, the final sign up date with regard to the proposals is on May 17, 2021. This follows five weeks of full time, informal discussions with the union, a 45-day formal consultation and five weeks of individual consultations with impacted associates.”
Last week, former constituency MP and High Steward of Banbury, Tony Baldry, a barrister, encouraged the union to take JDE to the High Court to challenge use of fire and rehire by a company that was not in financial difficulties and only applying it to hourly-paid workers rather than for managers and staff across the board
A Banbury 300 supporter wrote a post on social media in support of the workers' rights and condemning the company's use of fire and rehire. The post has been shared 80 times since Saturday.
He said: "This morning I passed the striking workers of JDE or as we still commonly refer to in Banbury as General Foods.
"JDE aren't British Airways or TUI - companies that have and are really struggling through the pandemic. JDE announced record profits...throughout the last year. Because of being in the food industry, production never ceased, in fact it increased due to ever-increasing global demand for coffee.
"These people are striking over the 'Fire and Rehire' terms being imposed on them - this basically boils down to 'We've completely ripped up your old contract, altered your working conditions for the worse and lowered your pay structure - in effect reducing your salary by in some cases by tens of thousands of pounds per annum, let alone stripping you of your previous pensions; now please sign here or else you're fired
"As frontline workers these employees have toiled right through the pandemic - almost certainly doing so with a real and justified element of fear."
The author described the Banbury 300 as friends, family, neighbours and school friends who are the fabric of JDE's success, whose current salaries have been built up over years of loyalty. He said the matter wasn't about politics but about right and wrong. "This is about greed and bullying," he said..
He called on the strikers to stick together in the face of 'sweeteners' and attempts to break their resolve.
To the strikers he said: "As individuals you can take comfort that nigh-on 100 per cent of the public is behind you. The recent disintegration of the proposed European Super League proves what people power can achieve - nationally and globally we've had enough of greed."
He asked the public to honk their horns next time they pass a demonstration to show support. He called fire and rehire an 'evil and despicable' tactic that should be stopped.