Workers were sent home from the mammoth frozen foods factory in Benton Lane, Newcastle – which once made Findus Food products such as Crispy Pancakes – on February 18, but are still yet to receive any formal information as to when they might return to work and did not receive last month's pay packet, due yesterday.
Without a finish date around 100 staff have been left in limbo, unable to sign-on for benefits and unsure if or when production could restart, beyond md Geir Frantzen’s February 18 comments to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle suggesting 8-10 days.
Keir Howe, GMB regional organiser, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that her union has written to Longbenton Foods numerous times since the site closed, but has yet to receive a reply, while workers are also still in the dark about the firm’s future.
Skeleton staff believed to be onsite
As of Monday, she said, one union member who visited the factory told her that administrative staff were still on site, although no manager was prepared to speak with staff.
Speaking to the local press, Frantzen blamed the situation on temporary cash flow problems, and as far as the GMB was aware, Howe said, Longbenton Foods is not insolvent or in administration: “Is the firm still functioning or not? It’s hard to ascertain at the moment.
“It’s an absolute disgrace, since people want jobs and job security. They’ve been asked not to turn up for work and nothing else, it isn’t acceptable.”
Howe said the GMB fully supported the firm’s attempts to resurrect production at the site, but warned: “This doesn’t mean that they can get away without paying people or leaving them in limbo”.
Struggling to buy food
She added that the GMB was looking into whether Longbenton Foods could be in breach of contract with staff if the uncertainty continued:
“We’re following a process now, and my timeline for this is next Monday: if workers haven’t been paid by then, their wages [for February] will be a week late. And I’ll be meeting with them on Tuesday to discuss our next move.”
One staff member told this FoodManufacture.co.uk on Monday that rumours were circulating that the factory could re-open this week, but have thus far come to nothing.
Another said he had been told by the firm that it hoped to sort the pay issue this week, but added that he was struggling to meet unpaid bills, direct debit payments and even buy food.
As we revealed last week, Longbenton Foods is still in the running to re-purchase its former second site in Amble, Northumberland from the administrator.
A spokeswoman for the office of Berwick upon Tweed MP Sir Alan Beith MP said this morning that Frantzen had assured her last Wednesday that he was doing all he could to seal the deal, but she had since heard "nothing concrete".
FoodManufacture.co.uk has tried without success to contact Longbenton Foods management for comment since February 18.