Reports that bosses at JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) in Banbury will stop workers from taking summer holidays to thwart an overtime ban, starting on May 1, in the ‘fire and rehire’ dispute has sparked outrage.
Unite understands that management have sent a letter to staff setting out conditions for applications for leave which may not be accepted if production is at risk at the Oxfordshire plant.
The revelation comes on the eve of proposed talks tomorrow (April 22) between Unite and the company, and as the union starts legal proceedings over allegations that some workers were offered inducements of £750 to accept pay cuts and inferior employment conditions.
As sections of the Ruscote Avenue site already rely on overtime to keep production running to schedule, Unite said the attempt to stop summer holidays was ‘a deliberate and underhand ploy’ to undermine the continuous overtime ban from 1 May.
The overtime ban follows Unite members voting by an 87 per cent majority to strike over the decision by the Dutch-owned company to issue notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees. Strike action is expected from June, if the overtime ban throughout May does not bring a resolution to the dispute.
In a separate move, Unite’s allegations that inducements of £750 have been made to some members of the workforce to accept inferior contracts that could see £7,000-a-year lopped off salaries for some workers have been notified to the conciliation service Acas, as the first legal step to start legal proceedings.
Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said, “The management at JDE is beginning to panic about production schedules by attempting to undermine the overtime ban by stopping workers taking their summer holidays.
“It is a deliberate and underhand ploy to undermine legitimate trade union industrial action and has sparked real outrage amongst our members.
“There is also the issue of parents who will be worried sick about how they are going to care for their children during the long school holidays,” he added. “JDE is acting like an employer from Victorian times, refusing to see their employees as people beyond the factory gates, with wider responsibilities and families that need them.
“We are due to meet the company tomorrow and are awaiting confirmation from JDE that it will also be attending,” Clarke continued. “This meeting would provide an opportunity for an increasingly desperate management to resolve this dispute that threatens the production of top coffee products, such as Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee.
“We are also angry over allegations that some workers have been offered inducements of £750 to accept inferior contracts that could see workers lose thousands of pounds in salaries and see employment conditions eroded.
“The conciliation service Acas has been contacted regarding our claims which is the first step to start legal proceedings,” he went on to say.
“During the 14 months of the pandemic, our members have worked flat-out to meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking by UK consumers – and Unite is not prepared to see this loyalty and hard work being repaid by pay cuts, and inferior terms and conditions.
“It is a great shame that recent managerial actions have soured what were harmonious employment relations for half a century.”
Unite has repeatedly raised the alarm over an outbreak of ‘fire and rehire’ disputes across the UK as unscrupulous employers look to exploit workers using Covid-19 as an excuse.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Fire and rehire’ is ripping through our workplaces like a disease. Weak law lets bad bosses force through brutal changes to contracts, sometimes taking thousands of pounds off wages that families need to get by.
“It’s a disgraceful practice that’s outlawed in much of Europe and should be here.
“Unite is fighting for UK workers to be treated with the same decency. We won’t stop until the law is changed to protect working people from attack.”
By Shaun Noble