Twinings grant: MEPs must prove EC acted unlawfully

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Twinings' Polish grant: no mere storm in a teacup
Twinings' Polish grant: no mere storm in a teacup
The European Commission (EC) says that UK MEPs must prove the body acted in an unlawful manner to block payment of a €12m (£10.4m) factory grant earmarked to develop a new Polish site.

263 UK jobs will be lost as a result of the firm transferring tea processing operations from North Shields to the site in Swarzedz, while an existing Chinese plant is also being extended, some 129 staff in Andover will also lose their jobs when operations are streamlined.

MEPs Keith Taylor, Peter Skinner and Stephen Hughes – together with Fiona Wilson from the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) – met EU employment commissioner László Andor on Tuesday in Brussels to demand repayment of the grant.

Tried to establish grant illegality

Andor told the politicians that Twinings’ grant should be blocked if they could establish that the EC had acted in an unlawful manner by authorising the grant, something that they then undertook to do directly at the meeting, although without immediate success.

However, Taylor told this morning that he was "hopeful for a positive outcome on two fronts: both in blocking payment of the grant award and seeking money from the Globalisation Adjustment Fund (GAF) for workers".

The GAF reserves €500m of EU funds each year to help workers "severely and personally affected by trade-adjustment redundancies", ​and provides money for such activities as finding work, specialised retraining and self employment.

Taylor said: “After this meeting I have agreed with my fellow MEPs that we must try to establish that the Commission has acted unlawfully. There is case law which suggests that national subsidiaries of multinational companies cannot benefit from this funding without guaranteeing funds will not be used simply for relocating jobs.

“We will be doing all we can to show that the Twinings decision was wrong. The Commission needs to adhere to the principle that regeneration funding should be used for genuine job creation, not job relocation.”

Plan to petition EU Parliament

Taylor added that the MEPs are promoting the submission of a petition to the EU Parliament “drawing attention to the infringement of proper procedure”,​ which if accepted would prompt an official investigation.

Andor said the EC would welcome an application from the UK government to pay funds to Twinings workers under the GAF, where it is the responsibility of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to apply if it believes there is a valid case.

Taylor said the three MEPs would all write to the DWP asking them to apply, but warned that that no British government has ever applied for GAF funding, although other member states (in particular Ireland and Denmark) have made extensive use of it.

EC still awaiting Polish response

Andor added that his colleague Johannes Hahn (the Commissioner responsible for EU regional development funding) is still awaiting a further letter from the Polish government concerning Twinings' Polish subsidiary.

The EC has been pressing state officials since last summer to reveal what assurances they "sought or received"​ that the €12m would be used for regeneration, not production relocation, where the latter employment of such a grant is illegal under EU law.

Associated British Foods (the tea firm’s parent company) originally applied for the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) grant when the subsidiary was still officially registered as a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME).

Hahn told Taylor in a letter last November that, although staff numbers at the Polish firm exceeded the SME threshold at the time of the grant application, it would only become a large enterprise “once the headcount and financial thresholds have been exceeded for two consecutive accounting periods, i.e. at the start of 2011”.

Earlier this week Twinings denied claims​ from the trade union USDAW that there were teething problems at its new Polish site, which began production on January 3.

One Andover employee said that the first jobs are likely to go at the site at the end of April, with the majority of staff affected following in June; redundancies are scheduled to begin at the North Shields site soon.

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1 comment

A huge thank you

Posted by peter millward,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person/s or groups of people that have helped me and my comrades. Those of us, from both Andover and Newcastle, that made the millions of pounds profit that Twinings made last year and indeed every year for the 18 years I have worked for them.

There are so many people to thank I hardly know where to start; however special thanks must go to Both Mike Parsonage & Jayne Shotton of Usdaw and Usdaw as a whole, the MEPs who have worked relentlessly on this issue and are still doing so, plus Derek Kotz and Sarah Evans of Andover Trades Union Council (ATUC) and Hampshire Labour Representation Committee respectively.

I would also like to thank Food along with many other media outlets that have given me air time and a great deal of patience too.

I will soon be issued my 12 weeks official notice now and as things stand I will still be paying to make myself redundant; all of the other workers across Europe will aslo be be paying to make me redundant too because Twinings still have not had their ERDF claim denied yet.

I know that at our level ATUC have done all that they can in ensuring the correct MEPs and the USDAW legal department are aware of this.

Please do keep up the fight, what Twinings are doing is so obviously wrong, they are relocating and I should know because I have watched nearly two thirds of the machinery at Andover boxed, packaged and moved by road to Poland.

Please do not let Twinings add insult to injury by them (Twinings) making me pay to make myself redundant while they claim £10.3 Million from Europe as well as gaining HUGE tax incentives from the economic zone in Swarzdez, Poland.

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