Crunch talks are being held on Friday (May 7) in a bid to resolve the ‘fire and rehire’ dispute involving nearly 300 workers at JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
Talks between Unite the union and the management, under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas, come as the union plans to ramp up strike action later this month, following the decision by the Dutch-owned company to issue notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees.
An already announced 24-hour strike will be held between 7am on Saturday (May 8) and 7am on Sunday (May 9).
This will be followed by newly announced dates for a 24 hour strike on May 15 starting at 7am and ending at 7am on May 16; and then a 72 hour strike starting at 6am on May 26 and running until 7am on May 29. A continuous overtime ban also started on May 1.
Other developments include another demo, following strict Covid-19 protocols, outside JDE’s Ruscote Avenue site, Banbury OX16 2QU from 10.30 on Saturday (May 8) – this follows on from the successful protest last week which was well supported by the local community.
Unite is liaising with its European trade union counterparts on offers of solidarity, after March’s financial results reported ‘a record In-Home organic growth of 9.1% in 2020’. This increase was boosted by the coffee drinking boom in the UK, including JDE’s top brands such as Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee, during the pandemic.
The dispute has been dogged by claims that bosses are banning summer holidays for workers in a bid to thwart industrial action – already the site relies on overtime to keep production running smoothly. The company also faces allegations that it used inducements of £750 to some workers so they would accept lower pay and inferior employment conditions – these claims have been referred to Acas.
The union is also seeking counsel on whether the company has breached the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention regarding the right to organise and to have collective bargaining processes in place.
Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said, “We going into tomorrow’s talks with JDE management in a constructive frame of mind, as we believe that no coherent business case has been made for these despicable ‘fire and rehire’ proposals.
“However, if this highly profitable firm digs its heels in, we have a programme of strike action in place for this month starting with a 24 hour strike on Saturday (May 8), as well as the continuous overtime ban which began on May 1.
“We believe that this industrial action will eventually cause severe disruption to production schedules and therefore hit the company where it hurts – on the bottom line which won’t amuse the global management,” Clarke added.
“The community has shown great support to our members and people are horrified by the dogmatic and hardline attitude of local bosses that could be a body blow to the regional economy. Some of our members could lose between £7,000 – £12,000-a-year which may mean some of them losing their homes.”
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 noted, “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,” he added.
“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