The Swarzedz site was built with the aid of a €12m (£10.4m) European grant, and will cost 392 UK jobs at sites in North Shields (which will close down) and Andover (where production is being streamlined) with redundancies due to begin within weeks; Twinings is also expanding an existing Chinese plant.
USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive & Allied Workers) area organiser Jayne Shotton told FoodManufacture.co.uk that problems establishing production in Poland meant that Twinings had delayed its UK redundancy programme, while workers here are still needed to help maintain production abroad.
Shotton said: “Apparently they are having a high turnover of Polish workers. They only pay the national minimum wage to the Polish workers and they find it very hard to keep them, as unfortunately they don’t have the skills.
“People were given notice of redundancy but due to problems in Poland, actually they have needed to keep some of them a little bit longer. So they were offered alternative jobs within the plants and nobody has actually left yet.
“Some are due to go in three weeks but workers are still going out to Poland.”
Production on schedule
However, a Twinings spokeswoman insisted that production in Poland, which she said began on January 3, is operating “as planned and on schedule”, with any changes to the UK redundancy programme the result of “additional UK volume and not related to operations in Poland”.
“The use of UK workers at the Polish factory has always been a planned activity to help support the start up of the site. Opportunities to help with the start up were communicated to UK staff at the time we announced the proposed changes in November 2009,” she said.
“This knowledge transfer phase is going well and co-operation between UK and Polish workers is helping the site to achieve its targets.
“It is important to emphasise that all our Polish employees are technically skilled and have been rigorously assessed prior to joining. Rates of pay are significantly higher than minimum wage.”
Twinings' €12m grant outraged politicians, union representatives and staff alike when FoodManufacture.co.uk broke news of it last year, with the latter arguing that they are subsidising their own unemployment (as UK and hence EU taxpayers) via the award.
However, Shotton revealed that USDAW will meet Johannes Hahn (the European commissioner ultimately responsible for the European Regional Development Fund grant) in person tomorrow, after the union made an official complaint to the European Commission (EC) about the granting of state aid.
This follows a meeting today also attended by USDAW, in addition to MEPs Peter Skinner and Keith Taylor, with EU employment commissioner László Andor in Brussels, where politicians and union alike will demand that the EC blocks Twinings' grant.
USDAW claims that Twinings wrongly obtained money intended for SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) by channelling its application through its small Polish subsidiary.
Said Shotton: “Even if we are successful with the complaint it’s not going to affect the members at Twinings, but it will mean Twinings will have to pay that money back and hopefully it will deter other companies from doing it.
“The grant is not supposed to be used to move business from one part of Europe to another. That’s not what the EC was set up to do.”