Plans to ‘fire and rehire’ nearly 300 workers at the JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) site in Banbury, Oxfordshire could lead to industrial action at the coffee factory, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Thursday 4 March).

Unite has branded the action of 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.

“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.”


Notes to editors:

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.