Thetford firm to lay off 350 workers

For more than 40 years, it has been one of the biggest and oldest employers at a Norfolk market town.But a major question mark was left hanging over the future of a major meat processing factory at Thetford tonight after it was announced that nearly three quarters of its workforce was being made redundant.

For more than 40 years, it has been one of the biggest and oldest employers at a Norfolk market town.

But a major question mark was left hanging over the future of a major meat processing factory at Thetford tonight after it was announced that nearly three quarters of its workforce was being made redundant.

Community leaders and union officials spoke of their shock after Tulip Ltd confirmed that it was ceasing the production of fresh pork and bacon at its UK headquarters, in Caxton Way, with the potential loss of 350 jobs.

Bosses at the meat processing company blamed the antiquated facilities at its Thetford factory for an ongoing downturn in profits and are set to transfer the production of its Danepak range to other UK sites.

Employees at the Norfolk plant, which includes a large number of Portuguese and eastern European migrant workers, were told of the news earlier today, which signalled the start of a 90 day consultation period between management and representatives from the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G).

The announcement means that about 90 staff could be left at Tulip's headquarters for the processing of some cooked products, distribution and administration at Thetford.

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Miles Hubbard, regional industrial organiser for the T&G Union, said the news was an added blow for the region's food processing industry following the recent lay off of more than 200 Bernard Matthews workers, in the wake of the bird flu break at Holton, near Halesworth.

“We have just been notified that there will be up to 350 redundancies at Thetford and obviously we are going to do everything we can to work with the company to keep production and jobs at the site because it is an important employer for Thetford and the surrounding area.”

“It is a shock that it has happened today and the workers are understandably devastated. They have worked hard to improve the plant and are very upset about the decision. The loss of 350 jobs will have a massive impact on this predominantly rural area, and will hit Thetford hard,” he said.

The Tulip group has a turnover close to £1bn and is the UK's second largest pork meat supplier, with about 7,000 staff and 17 sites. Last year it announced the loss of 800 jobs in the West Country with the transfer of cooked meat production, a £30m investment, and creation of hundreds more jobs at its factory at Beveridge Way, King's Lynn.

Peter Judge, managing director of Tulip's north east division said: “It is with great sadness that we are announcing our intention to cease the production of Fresh Pork and Fresh Bacon products at our Thetford site. This proposal is in no way a reflection on the quality or dedication of our workforce and we very much regret the impact that today's announcement will have.”

“However, the Thetford site has been losing money for several years and whilst we have tried very hard to return the factory to profitability it is a very old site and has inherent infrastructure and environmental issues that we are unable to overcome.”

Mr Judge added that the company was in a “very competitive” marketplace and that Thetford's production would probably be moved to sites in Cornwall, Westerleigh, near Bristol, and Tipton, west Midlands.

Thetford mayor Thelma Paines, who worked as a secretary at the factory during its early days, said she hoped the town could absorb the job losses.

“It is a sad occasion to hear of so many redundancies. I always thought that Thetford was their flagship factory. Tulip has always been a steady employer and helped towards the education of people working there. I can only wish the staff well for their future prospects and I hope the company will look again at refurbishing the factory. It has been an asset to the town,” she said.

Neil Stott, chief executive of Keystone Development Trust, said the organisation would be offering support and advice to Tulip's migrant workers through its Mobile Europeans Taking Action (META) group.