Bakkavor's Bourne site is one of the biggest suppliers of prepared salads, vegetables and fruit to leading UK supermarkets, but the firm began a 90-day consultation period in mid-September that could see up to 375 out of 1,200 staff made redundant.
Icelandic-owned Bakkavor says“difficult trading conditions” resulting in reduced sales volumes and higher raw material costs have prompted the action, which it says is designed to ensure the “long-term viability” of the Bourne site.
But Unite members from the site began two-hour protests in Bourne town centre yesterday, accompanied by oversized versions of the products they work with, such as a giant apple and carrot.
Workers are pushing the company to scrap planned job losses, by asking locals to sign ‘Save Bourne Jobs’ ‘apple and carrot’ pledge cards and display posters supporting the action in windows.
Key employer for town
Unite is also urging Bakkavor to agree to a ‘no compulsory redundancies’ policy, and to improve its severance package beyond the statutory minimum level to encourage volunteers for redundancy.
Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for the food and drink sector said: "There is a serious message here. 300 workers want a future with this company and they are determined to win one.
"Bakkavor is such an important employer in this town that we are appealing to our friends and neighbours, for the sake of our town, help us keep our jobs.
“Many families have members working side by side at the plant, including husbands and wives, so the threat of job losses is potentially devastating."
Wage structures under review
In response to Unite’s action, a Bakkavor spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk:"We are engaged in a 90-day consultation period with employees at…Bourne in order to propose redundancies. We fully appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone concerned and is in no way a reflection of their commitment and hard work.
“There are 375 employees at risk as part of this process and if the proposal goes ahead it may result in a proportion of this number being made redundant. This proposal also includes a review of wage structures and working practices.
“We continue to involve both Unite and our employee representatives at Bourne Salads in talks about options to minimise job losses.
“We sincerely hope that the workforce at Bourne can be flexible and constructive in working with us to achieve this goal, as ultimately the proposals are designed to safeguard the long term future of the site."
Bakkavor, which has also been engaged in a protracted dispute with staff at its pizza plant in Harrow, posted a 24.6% rise in earnings (before interest tax, depreciation and goodwill amortisation) to £135.1m on sales of £1.65bn in 2009.