Coffee-drinking supermarket customers will be a key element in the ‘fire and rehire’ dispute affecting nearly 300 employees at the JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) site in Banbury, Oxfordshire, as the firm faces reputational damage due to its high-handed tactics.
Unite warned today (Tuesday April 6) that the nation’s coffee drinkers needed to have confidence that the products – Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee – they were buying were produced by a firm with excellent ethical standards.
Unite said there was ‘a simmering managerial toxic culture’ at the Ruscote Avenue site which employs a diverse workforce.
Unite said its claims of a such a culture stem from allegations – that have come to the union’s attention – that at the 2019 Christmas party there were claims of assault and the police were called to the pub to deal with alleged intoxicated managers.
Unite’s members are currently voting on whether to take industrial action, with the option to strike, in response to the Dutch-owned company issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees. The ballot closes on Thursday April 15.
The workers’ anger has been fuelled by the financial results from the multi-national last month which reported ‘a record In-Home organic growth of 9.1 per cent in 2020’. This increase has been augmented by the boom in coffee drinking in the UK during the year-long pandemic.
“Britain’s loyal army of coffee drinkers needs to have confidence that the household names they purchase during their weekly supermarket shop are produced by a firm with a good reputation in the way it treats its staff,” commented Unite national officer Joe Clarke.
“Unfortunately, at present, Jacobs Douwe Egberts falls well below that benchmark as this highly-profitable multinational plans to ‘fire and rehire’ its workforce during a global pandemic – this leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is the dregs when it comes to employment relations.
“To meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking during the last 12 months, the workforce at Banbury has worked flat out supplying the nation with Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee.
“Unite has also detected a simmering toxic culture by management as witnessed by the allegations of assault at the 2019 Christmas party attended by managers which required attendance by our hard-pressed police.
Callous ‘fire and rehire’
“We believe that the callous ‘fire and rehire’ plans are another manifestation of this culture.
“Unite reiterates its call for constructive talks with the management on the plant’s future, before JDE suffers a consumer backlash and their products remain on the supermarket shelves because coffee lovers are angry at the treatment of these dedicated employees.”
Unite has raised the flag warning of an outbreak of ‘fire and rehire’ disputes across the UK as unscrupulous employers look to exploit workers using Covid-19 as an excuse.
“Fire and rehire is ripping through our workplaces like a disease,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
“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,” added McCluskey.
By Shaun Noble