393 factory workers at Twinings’ North Shields site face losing their jobs, which are set to be transferred to a new €45m (£37.7m) facility in Poland. The new site is subject to a EU Commission (EC) probe into whether a controversial €12m (£10.1m) grant that helped fund it is being used for regeneration or relocation, where the latter is illegal under union law.
Jayne Shotton, political officer for trade union USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I’m running out of words to express my indignation. This is so insensitive. When Twinings have got all these people currently facing losing their jobs, a trip like this shows total lack of consideration for their workers’ feelings.”
The away days are believed to involve team-building exercises for staff working across Twinings’ commercial division in the UK and Ireland, as well as a conference. But slamming the plans as a waste of cash, Shotton said: “Many people will not be able to afford a trip to Portugal when they lose their livelihood. It just rubs salt in the wounds.”
However, a Twinings spokesman emphasised to FoodManufacture.co.uk that the trip was organised on an annual basis and that there were cost advantages to holding it abroad.
"For the past seven years, Twinings has been holding an annual conference involving sales and marketing personnel from Northern and Southern England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and EIRE, briefing on fresh challenges and plans to accelerate sales momentum for the coming year.
“For the last two years this conference has been held in London. However, this year, with the benefit of low cost airfares and an out-of-season special rate on accommodation and conference facilities, we were able to significantly cut costs by more than 20%, by holding the event in Portugal."
Union lodges EU complaint
Shotton also revealed that USDAW has lodged its own complaint with the EC over Twinings' receipt of the €12m under the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) programme.
“We have sent off a formal complaint to the EU. Sanctions could involve Twinings repaying the grant money, with interest.”
The union’s stern line mirrors lobbying action by legislators to bring the controversial grant award to the attention of key EC officials.
A statement released by the European Labour Party on December 30 claimed that Derek Vaughan MEP secured a personal undertaking in the EU Parliament from Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy (with responsibility for EU funding), to examine the Twinings funding issue.
Vaughan said: "We've now had a personal commitment from the European Commissioner to look into this issue and I will be holding him to that promise.
"Sadly it is unlikely that anything can be done to get people's jobs back, but that does not take away the need for hard questions to be asked. The Commissioner must be left in no doubt that we will not give up on this issue.”