Workers at Norwich factory ‘extremely worried’ for their futures as dispute rolls on

PUBLISHED: 06:15 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:45 21 February 2018

Kettle Foods factory.

Kettle Foods factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Workers at a Norfolk food manufacturer say they fear for their futures as a dispute continues over new terms and conditions.

Kettle Foods has announced proposed changes to shift patterns and holiday entitlement for its workers to shore up profits dented by a price war with discount retailers.

The Bowthorpe company said it believed that it would be “able to offer roles to all existing permanent employees” in the process, which will affect all production staff in its 470-strong workforce.

But a consortium of employees from several shift teams has written to this newspaper to say they are still “extremely worried” about their future.

READ MORE: Kettle Foods MD says Brexit could force it to move production to EU

READ MORE: Kettle Foods owner bought by Campbell Soup Company in $4.87bn deal

Their letter claims that staff will lose between £4,000 and £6,000 from their salaries – in some cases, as much as 30% – as a result of the changes.

They have even written to Steve Rowe, chief executive of Marks and Spencer, a Kettle Crisps stockist, to appeal for him to intervene. In the letter they say they feel the company does not “respect us, or care about us any more” despite “years of loyalty”.

Despite assurances from Kettle that this was “not a redundancy situation”, workers and their relatives have told this newspaper that staff in the quality assurance (QA) and hygiene departments face redundancy.

A spokesman for Kettle Foods said it would not comment on speculation, adding: “As part of the reorganisation some roles will change but we expect that we will have roles to offer to all our team.”

Staff in other departments said they were aware of redundancies being made, with those affected given the opportunity to reapply for new positions at the company.

Meanwhile documents from the law firm representing Kettle’s workforce in the negotiations have outlined the workers’ position.

Lawyers say that, should the company fail to secure the support of employees in its plans, it may choose to begin a “dismissal and re-engagement process”.

This would see Kettle dismiss employees who do not agree to the changes and offer to re-employ them on new terms. If these terms are also rejected the worker would leave at the end of their notice period.

The document says that before this stage is reached there may be an opportunity for “concessions or incentives” to encourage more employees to accept the changes, with talks about revising the changes to holiday arrangements and paid overtime already under way.

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