They claimed that freedom of information requests showed discrepancies between what the manufacturer told the Greg Clark MP, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, and what was shared with the staff consultation group.
This included proposals to maintain both milling and bottling facilities in Norwich, which could have potentially saved 70 local jobs. Documents also recorded Unilever offering the secretary of state a “compromise” before any final decision was made.
GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn said: “It appears that Unilever made commitments to Greg Clark, which then appeared to have been deliberately withheld from their own workers throughout the review process.
“The notes beg the question, why was Unilever offering Greg Clark a ‘compromise’ before any final decision to Norwich was made?”
Excluded from the formal HR1 consultation
O’Hearn claimed that the discrepancies were the reason why Unilever excluded union officers from the formal HR1 consultation process, where they would have been challenged.
“Many members of the workforce and wider community believe that Unilever had already made a decision to close Norwich and the apparent discrepancies in advice and information to the consultation group raise serious concerns about whether there has indeed been any ‘meaningful consultation,” he added.
Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy expressed the union’s concern over the lack of transparency and disclosure during the Norwich site review and consultation.
“The law is there to ensure affected workers have the facts and their unions are fully able to discuss and seek alternatives to closures,” said McCarthy. “Business secretary Greg Clark must do the right thing and investigate.
“This is a stain on Unilever's reputation that won't wash off unless the company comes clean about its compromise offer as the Colman’s site closure is having a huge impact on the workers and hitting the wider Norwich economy.”
Refuted any discrepancies
However, Unilever refuted that there were any discrepancies between what they had discussed in its employee consultation group and what was said to its stakeholders.
A Unilever spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We have always been clear that we would consider a range of options during the review of our factory following Britvic’s decision to leave our shared site.
“These options were discussed and evaluated with significant input from our consultation group over a three-month period and we then went into a formal consultation process following the announcement of our own proposals in January, where we discussed them in detail.”
The manufacturer claimed that union representative for its employees on-site had been actively present and involved throughout the review and consultation process.