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Volume 51 Number 16, May 8, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Banbury coffee workers whip up pressure in "fire and rehire" row with May 1 demo and 24-hour strike

Unite the Union, April 28

Workers at JDE (Jacobs Douwe Egberts) in Banbury are ramping up pressure in the "fire and rehire" dispute with a protest on May 1, followed up with a 24-hour strike on 8/9 May.

A continuous overtime ban will started on May 1 because of the decision by the Dutch-owned company to issue notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees. More strikes are on the cards for June.

The demo, following strict Covid-19 protocols, was held outside JDE's Ruscote Avenue site, Banbury on May 1. The 24-hour strike was held between 07:00 on Saturday, May 8 and 07.00 on Sunday, May 9.

Increased pressure on the highly profitable firm comes as Unite launched a national campaign this week to end the "bully boy" "fire and rehire" tactics being used by a growing number of unscrupulous employers across the UK.

The JDE bosses are currently embroiled in a row that they 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 by Unite to the conciliation service Acas.

Unite said that the company is trying to intimidate its members into signing contracts through aggressive one-to-one interviews and some workers, male and female, have been reduced to tears by bullying bosses.

The union has also notified the Health and Safety Executive over allegations that the company is preparing to use unskilled labour for work on ammonia pipes and boilers as part of contingency plans to undermine the forthcoming industrial action.

Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said: "We are ratcheting up the pressure on the management by holding this Covid-secure protest on Saturday and also staging a 24-hour strike in the first week of May.

"There is real anger amongst our members and in the Oxfordshire community about the dogmatic and hardline attitude of the local management that could be a body blow to the regional economy.

"We are not going to allow our hardworking members at this very profitable company to be steamrollered into accepting lower pay and inferior conditions, especially as they have worked flat-out during the pandemic to meet the soaring demand for coffee from UK consumers.

"We won't be giving into bully boy tactics, more reminiscent of the 1930s, that have seen some of our members reduced to tears following aggressive one-to-one interviews to get them to accept these new contracts.

"If these contracts are allowed to be introduced, the substantial cut in pay could mean some of our members losing their homes as they will no longer be able to afford their mortgage or rent payments. Such a scenario would be a disgrace.

"Unless the management enters into a constructive dialogue with Unite, mounting industrial action during the summer will hit the production of top coffee products, such as Tassimo, Kenco and L'OR Coffee."

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."

* Slightly edited for timing.

Norwich City council workers vote for strike action over broken promises on pay and conditions

Unite the Union, May 5

Workers who carry out vital services for Norwich City Council have overwhelmingly voted for industrial action.

In the Unite ballot 83% of the workers backed industrial action on a 90% turnout and UNISON members voted 81% in favour of strike action on a turnout of 84%.

Unite and UNISON will now begin preparations to announce strike dates at the council's new arm's length company called Norwich City Services Ltd (NCSL) in a dispute over pay and conditions.

The unions have been in discussions since 2018 with Norwich City Council (NCC) regarding the formation of the new arm's length company NCSL. The company has been set up to bring services, including ground maintenance and street cleaning which had been outsourced to Norse, back in-house.

But management is not delivering on commitments the City Council made to union members to harmonise their pay, terms and conditions with their council colleagues. The workers transferring in have some of the lowest pay rates & terms of employment; much worse than any council worker. The company's offer on pay, sickness and holidays falls well short of what is required to make progress on equality, plus new managers are being recruited on superior terms and conditions compared to existing staff.

The trade unions remain open to discussions, but are warning that their members' overwhelming support for action should be a signal to NCSL that it needs to significantly improve its offer to avoid disruption in the city. The workers carry out vital services including street cleaning, and the maintenance of the parks and gardens.

Unite regional officer, Adam Oakes said: "Our members have sent a clear message to their employer that they are not prepared to accept terms and conditions that are inferior to their directly employed Norwich City Council colleagues.

"The council needs to honour the commitments it has made to these workers who are low paid, who do not get company sick pay and are not part of the local government pension scheme.

"These men and women work outside in all weather conditions keeping the city and its parks and gardens clean.

"Members of both Unite and Unison are overwhelmingly united in their support for industrial action. We urge management to get around the negotiating table to agree a fair deal for the staff."

UNISON Norfolk Branch Secretary Jonathan Dunning adds: "None of our members want to take strike action, after all they deliver important services that the public rely upon. However they are not prepared to accept a pay deal that sells them short and reneges on commitments they were given by the City Council. They are being treated as second class workers by NCSL and the City Council. All they seek is equality with their council colleagues. Their reasonable pay claim is merely a first step to achieving this."


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