Twinings informed staff late last week that it was bringing over the Polish workers for training at the hands of North Shields staff this Tuesday, ahead of phased redundancies from February 2011.
After this production currently undertaken at North Shields will be transferred to Poland and Twinings' other UK site at Andover.
Jayne Shotton, political officer at USDAW, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that she was disappointed butnot surprised that Twinings had chosen to implement the plan without consulting the union.
She said:“Union consultation in this case would have given employees a chance to air their concerns, possibly draw up an agreement on this move and encourage members to get involved on their terms.
“Late last week I had a couple of calls from site representatives asking if they could refuse to train the Polish staff, as people wanted to know their rights.
“As we understand it, an official announcement was finally made by the company on Friday, and our members are obviously unhappy about this, it’s a real kick in the teeth.”
Staff blame firm
A Twinings spokeswoman said that two groups of Polish employees would be visiting the UK, each for single three-week stints: “Twinings will be welcoming a handful of new employees from Poland to the North Shields site, who will…familiarise themselves with the tea-making process and receive training,” she said.
“While we recognise that this has been a very difficult time for our employees at North Shields and appreciate that some people would prefer not to participate, many employees are willing to help carry out this training.
"A significant number of our employees have also expressed interest in the opportunity to train Polish employees at the new site in Poland. We will be making further details available to staff about this initiative in the coming weeks.
She added: "It is important to emphasise that Twinings remain committed to the UK and the move to Poland will not affect the Twinings people drink in the UK, as more than 90% of production for the UK market will remain here in Andover.”
Shotton confirmed that the Polish workers had indeed arrived:“The first group arrived this morning and are now on the shop floor, and it’s not only difficult for UK staff but also incredibly irresponsible, introducing new Polish staff into a strange and potentially negative working environment.”
“I spoke to a factory union rep today and, fortunately, they said that UK employees were being friendly. Staff at North Shields blame Twinings, they know it is not the new workers’ fault.”
Given that the training issue has attracted the attention of many broadcasters who had not covered earlier developments surrounding the factory closure, Shotton said it was a shame that more UK media outlets hadn't reported it in greater detail.
"Six months ago, increased exposure might have made a real difference to the company's plans to close the factory down," she said.
Meanwhile, the EU Commission is still seeking “formal guarantees” from the Polish authorities that Twinings is not using an EU funding award to invest in a new factory that will see UK production relocated abroad.
Twinings is consolidating its UK operations in Andover, Hampshire, with 129 jobs set to go at this site next spring, while the North Shields site faces closure in 2011 with the loss of 263 jobs. The cuts follow a decision to transfer operations to a new factory in Poland and expand a Chinese site.