Working conditions at Banbury's coffee factory are 'becoming unsafe' because of pressure to accept contract changes

Conditions for staff in the JDE coffee factory are 'becoming unsafe' because of increasing pressure on workers, a source has told the Banbury Guardian.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 4:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 4:16 pm
JDE coffee factory where workers have voted for industrial action in protest at a 'fire and rehire' process that seeks to oblige them to accept different contracts

The workers have voted overwhelmingly for an overtime ban from May 1 possibly leading to a full strike in June following JDE's decision to consult on 'fire and rehire' process in its bid to get workers to accept the new contracts.

JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) management sent staff a letter this week setting out conditions for applications for leave which may not be accepted if production is at risk. They have also threatened disciplinary action if certain rules are not observed with regard to social media.

The company said there was an 'overwhelming need' to re-set the Banbury operation. It said it is common practice to share with staff 'clear ways of working' during industrial action and its priority would always be protect everyone's health and safety.

However one staff member described the situation as 'chaos' with management holding secret meetings and exhausted employees workers being 'dragged' into private consultation meetings to discuss 'inferior' contracts the Dutch company wants to impose.

The company says it needs to change the contracts to improve the company's competitiveness. But staff and their union, Unite, say the workforce has performed outstandingly during the pandemic year and has improved the company's profits by 9 per cent.

"They are putting pressure on employees, especially new starters. It's becoming mentally exhausting," said one worker. "It's mind numbing. Only last week they sent a letter telling staff to take time off for to recoup and for their well-being. This week it seems they're not accepting leave requests after May 1.

"It's awful. The tactics they are using are inhumane. Thursday we had no work and everyone was standing around. Even the shift managers don't support the changes. But JDE wants us to go on inferior contracts. Currently we entitled to 3.5 weeks redundancy pay and they want to change it to just 7 days. Also the pension looks as though it will be gone - a pension which is very well looked after.

"Under JDE, each employee has six direct managers - it makes no sense - and then they blame the workers for failure. Some think the overtime ban from May 1 will mean the factory will stop and the management know it. It's a toxic environment."

The source said the site runs mainly thanks to years of goodwill from the workers and through unions working with the company.

A spokesman for JDE said: “We appreciate some associates may find the changes difficult and we are now in individual consultation with our associates so they can assess what our current proposals will mean for them and decide the best way forward individually.

"It is common practice to share clear ways of working during any period of industrial action. Our priority will always be to operate in a way that also protects everyone’s health and safety.

"“We do not propose these changes lightly but there is an overwhelming need to reset Banbury manufacturing. We continue to ask the union to constructively participate in the process and have asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to support us in reaching an agreement that benefits both our associates and the business.”

The company said holiday requests may still be submitted but will need to be approved by a team leader. However, some requests may not be able to be approved depending on the impact on the business.

Those calling in sick during industrial action would be contacted to discuss their reason for absence, offer support and obtain a medical certificate, which is standard practice during industrial action, it said.

The spokesman said the company was unable to comment on redundancy changes during consultations but they were not as reported to the Banbury Guardian and a pension scheme would be available.

Joe Clarke, Unite the Union national officer for the food and drink sector, said: "The company are feeling the pressure and are responding by trying to play a hard line.

"We had an overwhelming mandate for industrial action. We're supporting staff in the one-to-one consultation process and Unite have given every member a letter to give management to protest about the contract changes. So far we aren't aware of anyone accepting the new contracts.

"We're in a position of strength. We've had a number of meetings of the whole workforce in regular Zoom meetings with all shifts. We're in a discussions with ACAS and are open to continuation of these but the company are saying they only want to discuss the contract changes and not the retraction of the fire and rehire notice.

"The overtime ban will more or less stop production. We are in a strong position. There's a lot of solidarity and support in there."