The union is to lobby Members of Parliament (MPs) in a bid to retain full production at the site, following plans from the owner C&C Group to relocate most production to Clonmel in the Ireland.
The manufacturer planned to close the cider mill at the end of the summer with the loss of 120 jobs, ending a tradition stretching back to 1770, claimed the union.
Unite claimed there was no need for the site to close with production of brands – including Blackthorn and Olde English – moving to the Magners plant in Clonmel. Only fruit will continue to be pulped at Shepton Mallet, but then shipped to Ireland, claimed the union.
‘Workers are being sacrificed’
Unite regional coordinating officer Steve Preddy said: “The Shepton Mallet workers are being sacrificed because of historic commercial failings that, in our view, have led to the overcapacity issues across the C&C Group.”
“We will want to discuss with the MPs the reasons behind the announcement that the cider mill will close and how multi-national companies treat hard-working employees in such a casual off-hand fashion.”
Unite chief shop steward at the cider mill Stephen Faulkner said: “There is something not right about Somerset apples being used to make traditional Somerset ciders in Ireland when we have the skills, tradition and enthusiasm to continue to make high-quality cider in Shepton Mallet.
‘Hardship and anguish’
“The closure will have a very detrimental impact on the town and great hardship and anguish for our members looking for new jobs in the county. It is time for a rethink by the management of C&C and we hope that the MPs will support us in this.”
Union representatives will meet the MPs under the auspices of the all-party parliamentary group on cider at the House of Commons next Tuesday (23 February).
Three non-cider making manufacturing firms have approached the cider mill’s owner about the site, but no further details have been made available as it is said they are commercially sensitive, according to Unite.
Union representatives also wanted to discuss with MPs the need for an economic blueprint to create more employment in the West Country. “The region can’t just survive on tourism and a poorly-paid service sector. We would like to discuss if there is common ground with the MPs on this issue,” said Preddy.
Ideas to help boost regional employment included: small industrial estates adjacent to market towns, increasing broadband access to assist home working and tele-commuting;
C&C Group declined to comment on the union’s claims.