However, Arla told Foodmanufacture.co.uk that is was “surprised by the statement” and would be asking the union for clarification.
The union said it was taking legal action on behalf of its 75 members at the Essex milk plant under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. It claimed the company had failed to inform and consult on collective redundancies.
Unite said the management decision to close the plant was made in January and February. Unite said the 45-day consultation process did not consider ways to avoid job losses.
The union said it believed that the costs and damages for Arla, if this went to an employment tribunal, were likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Only consulted on consequences
Unite regional officer Mark Barter said: “Our claim is that Unite was effectively only consulted on the consequences of the decision to close the site after the decision had already been made.
“There was no consultation on ways to avoid the dismissals and/or reduce the number of dismissals in good time prior to the decision actually being made, as required, or at all.
“Unite legal services are now involved and our solicitors have now written to our members regarding our potential claim which would involve a protective award of up to 90-days compensation per member.
“The company is aware that we have started legal proceedings.”
Barter also said Unite had already registered for early talks with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
A spokesman for Arla Foods said: “Arla is surprised by the statement that has been issued by Unite Union [Thursday, June 2] in relation to the proposed closure of our Hatfield Peverel fresh milk dairy.
“We have liaised with Unite throughout the collective consultation process and continue to work closely with our colleagues through individual consultation.
“We have undertaken and continue to consider a wide range of actions to mitigate the number of people impacted by the proposed closure through redeployment internally to other sites or by securing alternative employment outside of Arla where possible.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment any further as the consultation process at the site is ongoing.”
Arla Foods announced in March that the plant could close by the end of July after reviewing its processing requirements.
Arla’s Aylesbury site, which has a capacity to process 1bn litres of milk a year after receiving a £150M investment, would take on the majority of Hatfield Peverel’s processing.