Relief for workers at fire-hit Findus site

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Redundancy, Layoff

January 2009: Flames swept through production halls at the Benton Lane site
January 2009: Flames swept through production halls at the Benton Lane site
Around 300 workers employed at a Newcastle frozen food factory who lost their jobs after the site was gutted by fire in early 2009 are finally starting to receive statutory redundancy pay.

The GMB union had expressed discontent with the speed at which the government body in charge of the statutory payouts, the Redundancy Payments Office (RPO), had processed staff claims to a share of a £590,000 overall redundancy kitty.

This was agreed in the fire’s aftermath with the site's former administrator Zolfo Cooper, which stepped in after owner Newcastle Productions went bust as a result of the disaster; the events took place at the Benton Lane site, which produced products such as Crispy Pancakes for Findus Foods, and is currently closed under the Longbenton Foods banner.

The redundancy payout issue dates back to the 2009, when an 8-week package was agreed with the then administrator for affected staff, and GMB regional officer Colin Preston told this morning: “There has been movement in the last couple of days, and it looks as if staff will receive the money sooner rather than later."

Payout nowhere near what staff owed

“Although I’ve yet to see an official letter, one of our shop stewards said today that he had received a letter from the RPO asking him to submit bank details, so hopefully there will some movement now, although staff will receive nowhere near what they are owed.”

Preston said the GMB had applied for statutory redundancy pay for members to the RPO shortly before last Christmas, with the union claiming 8 weeks pay for workers (the statutory limit), although the union originally pushed for 12 weeks with Zolfo Cooper.

He accepted that the delays were due to the RPO facing a “logistical nightmare”​ of delays and difficulties regarding eligible employees submitting earnings and National Insurance details.

Soon after of the fire, the GMB took legal action against operator Newcastle Productions for its failure to honour a statutory 90-day consultation period before announcing redundancies, Preston explained; the firm went into administration thereafter and the GMB subsequently agreed the package with Zolfo Cooper.

However, lack of cash to back the redundancy payout commitment meant the staff claims were referred to the RPO, which usually handles such claims within 90 days.

Related topics: People & Skills, Frozen

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