'Work with us' plea

Global boss of Banbury coffee plant told to rethink ‘fire and rehire’ plans by workers in open letter

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The global boss of JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) has been urged to withdraw the ‘fire and rehire’ threat to the Banbury workforce and engage constructively to find a solution which won’t cause social and economic havoc in the Oxfordshire town.

The employees have written an open letter to JDE Peet’s chief executive officer Fabien Simon speaking of their devastation to their work and personal lives at the plans that could see them lose up to £12,000 a year in pay – and, in some cases, their homes.

Unite the union, which represents the 291 workers under threat of being sacked if they refuse to sign the new contracts, has taken a four page ‘wrap around’ in Thursday’s (May 27) Banbury Guardian as it steps up its campaign to get the highly profitable Dutch-owned global coffee maker to rethink its current hardline strategy.

Fabien Simon is asked why the loyal workforce, which has worked flat-out to keep up with soaring UK coffee demand during the pandemic, have been singled out for this harsh treatment, while Dutch colleagues are not being ‘fired and rehired’.

A 72 hour strike started at 6am on Wednesday, May 26 and runs until 7am on Saturday, May 29. This follows-on from two 24 hours strikes, as well as a continuous over time ban that has been in place since May 1. More dates are set to be announced throughout the summer.

In the letter to Fabien Simon, the employees said: “We’ve worked hard through these frightening, tough times, helping to make your company very rich. Our reward? You’ve told us to take pay cuts of up to £12,000 a year or be sacked.

“Can you imagine how devastating that is? People are terrified, breaking into tears at work, not knowing how we will be able to make ends meet in a town where the average house price is £313,000,” the letter continued.

“Managers have even told us to sell our houses and move away – but why should we be uprooting our children when your company is so profitable? When we protest, we and our children are filmed, a needless act of intimidation. We cannot understand why JDE is doing this to us.

“Our colleagues in the Netherlands, for example, are not being fired and rehired. Why are you singling out British workers for this mistreatment? You have made incredible record profits in recent months. So many of us have given a lifetime of loyal service to this business.

“We ask that you meet with us. Look us in the eye and explain why your company has become so hostile after decades of positive and constructive relations,” the letter went on to read.

“Explain to us how we can keep a roof over our heads with our wages slashed.

“Banbury is a proud town, but it is in shock over how we are being treated. Our friends and neighbours are standing with us because these tactics are not welcome here.

“Please, work with us to find a fairer way forward. Withdraw these threats, engage with us via the agreed process, and treat us and this community with the dignity we deserve.”

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.

The union is running a national campaign to get the government to outlaw the practice, in line with other competitor countries, to give UK workers protection. A recent Survation poll for Unite found seven in 10 want the practice banned.

Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal, Howard Beckett, said, “It’s quite clear that the public is firmly on the side of working people when it comes to the horrific practice of fire and rehire.

“There is no grey area here. They see that this is an objectionable practice that should be banned. The government has to get on the same page as voters on this and fast.”

By Ryan Fletcher

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