Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is facing pressure from MPs to handover £12m in promised redundancy payments to staff who worked at its former Avonmouth site.
The calls came as Unite called for an inquiry into the sale and subsequent collapse of the site, which is near Bristol.
In December 2016, the site and the workforce were transferred to the start-up pharmaceutical company Avara for just £1.
As part of the deal Avara continued to supply AstraZeneca’s branded drugs to the company.
When the transfer was completed the 230 staff at the site – the vast majority of whom are members of Unite – were given “cast iron guarantees” verbally and in writing that if the plant closed in the first three years AstraZeneca would honour the enhanced redundancy rights of the transferred staff.
In February this year the site went into administration, however despite the previous assurances on redundancy payments from AstraZeneca, the multibillion pound conglomerate has refused to pay the affected staff the enhanced redundancy payments which are estimated to be £14 million.
Labour MP Darren Jones, who represents Bristol North, said that AstraZeneca should honour their promises, as did neighbouring Tory MP Jack Lopresti.
Jones said, “Given that they have an ability to reclaim these sums from Avara, I see no reason why AstraZeneca shouldn’t pay their previous employees their full redundancy packages.”
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca insisted that “all obligations to make any redundancy payments to the former employees passed to Avara as part of the 2016 sale under relevant employment legislation”.
Unite has taken legal claims for a protected award on behalf of the workers, which if successful will have to picked up by the tax payer, due to Avara being in administration.
Any financial awards will be substantially less than the workers would have received if they had remained employees of AstraZeneca.
Unite regional secretary for the South West Steve Preddy called for AstraZeneca’s sale of the site to Avara to be fully investigated by parliament or a financial regulator.
He said, “Unite’s members have been treated appallingly and so called ‘cast iron guarantees’ have been proved to be entirely worthless.
“AstraZeneca is a multi-billion conglomerate and £14m is small change for the company but it makes a huge difference for our members, many of whom have spent their working lives at the site.
“The workforce are the latest victims of bandit capitalism. The powers that be are allowing these practices to continue unchecked and have learned nothing since the Carillion scandal.
“Questions also need to be answered about who now owns this piece of prime real estate and what plans there are for this site.”