JDE, which makes Kenco Tassimo, Millicano and L’Or coffee at the Oxfordshire site, has put 291 workers into a Section 188 process after talks over future terms and conditions failed to progress.
Employers are required by law to issue a Section 188 notice to workers if they are considering 20 or more redundancies. According to the Unite union, the process effectively means the staff could be dismissed and re-engaged by the Dutch-owned company for less pay.
Unite said its members had voted by 96% in a consultative ballot to hold a full-scale industrial action ballot, with the option to strike. No dates are yet available for when the ballot might be held.
The union added that its members were also ‘furious’ at proposed changes to the company’s pension scheme, which would mean the end of the current defined benefit final salary system and the introduction of an ‘inferior’ defined contribution plan.
Joe Clarke, Unite national officer for the food and drink industry, said: “Our members have voted by an impressive 96% in a consultative ballot that they wished to have a full-scale industrial action ballot, including the option to strike, over the bosses’ plans to ‘fire and rehire’ them on inferior pay and employment conditions.
“There is no reason, except excessive corporate greed, why the Banbury bosses have adopted this immoral decision to adopt a ‘fire and rehire’ strategy in the midst of a global pandemic which will damage our members’ incomes and hit the wider Oxfordshire economy.”
Clarke added that Unite were open to ‘constructive talks’ with the JDE management on the plant’s future.
In a letter supporting the workforce, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The recent notice of fire and rehire from JDE in Banbury is a despicable attack on our hard-working key workers who have committed themselves so tirelessly throughout this COVID crisis, under extremely difficult circumstances, supplying the nation with coffee throughout the UK.
“This is an opportunist attack on our members’ pay and conditions, our members and their families have been through enough hardship over the past 12 months without having to deal with this unethical and immoral behaviour.”
Rob Williams, JDE Banbury plant director, said the proposed changes to working practices at the factory were to ensure the company was in the ‘strongest possible position’ to remain competitive.
“We notified our associates and the trade union of the proposals in January followed by five weeks of full-time, informal discussions,” said Williams. “We hoped to reach mutual agreement through informal negotiations but this has not been the case. We have started the Section 188 legal process which moves the negotiations into the collective consultation process with the aim of reaching mutual agreement. There is a role for everyone and the proposals do not include any redundancies within the manufacturing unit.”
Williams added: “We have not issued a notice of dismissal and re-engagement at this time. Once the collective and individual consultations have been exhausted, this could be one of the outcomes of the Section 188 process. We urge the union committee to constructively participate in the consultation to reach a mutual agreement that benefits both our associates and the business.”