shutterstock_201623201 (1)

DHL supermarket deliveries of major coffee brands are under threat as 300 workers at Jacobs Douwe Egberts’ (JDE’s) site in Banbury, Oxfordshire vote this week on whether to take industrial action over a “fire and rehire” dispute.

Unite’s members at the site are 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 15 April.

Unite say 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% in 2020, fuelled by the boom in coffee drinking in the UK during the year-long pandemic.

Talks between the company and Unite representatives on employment conditions were abandoned at the onset of coronavirus last year.

But the union says JDE has come back to the table this year “with a vengeance", issuing notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees and proposals to replace the company's final salary pension scheme with what Unite describes as an “inferior” defined contribution scheme.

Unite national officer Joe Clarke said: “To meet the estimated 40% 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.

“Yet, this is the shabby way the company has repaid the loyalty of its workers who kept production running smoothly through the worst of times.

“They should be rewarding the workforce, instead of treating them in this Dickensian fashion.

Clarke added: “These appalling proposals have been compounded by draconian changes to the pension scheme that will seriously undermine our members’ ability to retire in dignity with a decent income.”

“Unite is prepared for constructive talks with the management on the plant’s future, but the threat of ‘fire and rehire’ needs to be taken off the table for such negotiations to take place – goodwill needs to be shown.”

Unite is warning of an outbreak of ‘fire and rehire’ disputes across the UK.

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."

A JDE UK spokesperson said: “We appreciate some associates may find the changes difficult but there is an overwhelming need to reset Banbury’s manufacturing operations so we are competitive and can grow in the future. We will compensate associates who are financially impacted, and the majority of associates will gain financially following this process.

“We are disappointed that the union has decided to ballot for industrial action at this early stage while we were still in collective consultation. We continue to urge the union committee to constructively participate in the process and have asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to help us both reach an agreement that benefits our associates and the business.

“We are confident that the proposed changes will not impact our ability to supply customers with our products.”