Nestlé Confectionery UK announced on December 10 that it plans to close the site and merge all of its UK ‘seasonal’ manufacturing into a Halifax plant by the end of 2012, with bosses claiming the business could “operate more efficiently from a single site, instead of two separate sites that are relatively close together”.
210 workers are currently employed at Castleford, which produces After Eights and Toffee Crisp, and Nestlé aims to offer them alternative jobs: the firm claims production transfers will create 120 positions between its Halifax and Fawdon sites alone, while there will be 100 new jobs at other confectionery factories over the next two years.
“The company therefore has alternative job opportunities for people to consider,” said a Nestlé statement. “ If suitable roles are not available, Nestlé will provide training and support for its people to find new jobs with other local employers.”
Unanswered questions remain
But Unite regional officer John Mallinder told FoodManufacture.co.uk that after a discussion between shop stewards at Castleford and Halifax last Thursday, the union had several unanswered questions for Nestlé at the January meeting.
Explaining that staff always feared that closure could occur following the transfer of Smarties production from York to Hamburg in late 2006, which lowered the latter site’s unit costs and made it “difficult for Castleford to compete”, he said:
“During the January meeting we will press the firm to fully explain what precise ‘efficiencies’ the site has failed to achieve, since in Nestlé’s release on the closure David Rennie [Nestlé Confectionery UK md] discusses the importance of operational efficiencies.”
Unite also worries about the knock-on effect in socio-economic terms if jobs were transferred from Castleford, said Mallinder, while he disputed Nestlé’s claim that 210 workers would be affected, insisting this number excluded seasonal staff, cleaners and canteen workers.
“300 plus employees are likely to be affected, and their loss of purchasing power in the Castleford area will have a severe knock-on effect for the local economy."
Unite asks Nestle for ‘social audit’
“This is why we will request that the firm carry out a social audit, as we do believe that Nestlé is a socially responsible company. What will the impact be? Well, there will be no manufacturing left in the area, since chemical manufacturing and mining have also gone.”
Nestlé said it would retain around 90% of Castleford’s production volumes in the UK, although a “small proportion” of After Eight export production will move to Hamburg.
And although he welcomed the news that the bulk of production would remain UK-based, Mallinder said he worried about the future for Castleford employees, many of whom have worked at the factory for over 20 years.
“Nestlé says staff will be integrated elsewhere, but what is the precise exit strategy for the firm and employment possibilities at Halifax, York or Fawdon?”
Can Yvette Cooper help?
Mallinder said that Unite is liasing with local MP Yvette Cooper – who recently opened a learning centre at the site and described its potential closure as “grim news” – over the social ramifications of Nestlé’s move for Castleford, and stressed the factory’s history.
He said Unite had sought a meeting with Cooper because of her high-profile and concern for the local region: “The regional development agency Yorkshire Forward would have helped staff in the past, but that’s gone now so we need to know what will other government agencies can do.”
“One thing we are thankful for is that Nestlé has given us a long window to work out an exit strategy, but we do want a timeline if there are no alternatives to site closure.”