Tate & Lyle clashes with union over outsourcing

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

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Tate & Lyle has dismissed allegations that outsourcing raw sugar operations at its Silvertown refinery in London could compromise workers’...

Tate & Lyle has dismissed allegations that outsourcing raw sugar operations at its Silvertown refinery in London could compromise workers’ health and safety.

The contract has been awarded to Solent Stevedores, a specialist stevedoring (ship loading and unloading) company, which will take over from April 12, 2008.

While Tate & Lyle said the outsourcing at Silvertown was a cost-cutting exercise, it has not revealed how much it plans to save or how it will do it. The GMB union alleged that the target amount was £450,000 and added that the processor would only achieve this by making “major cuts in every element of the operation, especially health and safety”

It also claimed that Solent would force employees to work inside ships’ holds while cranes lifted sugar out of them - a procedure banned on safety grounds under Tate & Lyle’s risk assessment.

GMB senior organiser Justin Bowden said: “The mere fact that Tate & Lyle’s own risk assessments will apparently be binned to accommodate potentially deadly working is all the proof GMB requires as to Tate & Lyle’s negligent attitude towards its employees. This is putting people in harm’s way.” He added: “Any company that expects to save almost half a million pounds a year by contracting out part of its operation knows that that can only be achieved by cutting every element of that operation.”

Tate & Lyle operations director Simon Gibbons declined to comment on this specific allegation. However, he insisted that the firm would “never compromise safety”. He added: “Safety was our most important criterion in choosing to work with Solent Stevedores. They are the largest stevedoring company in the port of Southampton and enjoy an excellent safety record.

“Tate & Lyle has been in consultation with the GMB concerning the proposed changes to working practices in its raw sugar operations since February 1. It is not true to suggest that we rejected a meeting with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the GMB. In fact we offered to discuss our safety plan fully with them and have already had discussions with the HSE.”

The move to outsourcing will affect 13 Tate & Lyle employees and 19 contractors. The permanent staff will have the opportunity to either work for Solent, receive compensation or apply for re-deployment within the refinery, added Gibbons.

Tate & Lyle has pumped significant investment into the refinery in recent months, installing two new £3M 475t ‘super cranes’ and a new biomass boiler, he said. “As part of our commitment to the long-term future of our UK business, we are ensuring that our cost-reduction projects are reinforced by a number of significant investments at Thames Refinery to support the business as it transitions to the new [EU sugar] regime.”