Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Unite - against Cadbury's chocolate.

In July and August members of Unite Union were involved in a consultative ballot on strike action over a pay deal, the results are now in and mean there will be a further ballot of the 12,000 workers to decide whether or not to take strike action.

A representative of Unite said,
Cadbury had agreed a deal of RPI inflation plus 0.5%, with a minimum of 2% for 2009, and ... accused the company of imposing a 0.5% increase because of falling inflation"
A Cadbury's spokesman said,
"We have said all along that we have kept to our three year pay deal and in the light of current pay freezes for all other Cadbury employees this increase is fair, particularly given current economic conditions."
Unite wants what it believes is the right thing for its' members, so wants Cadbury to keep to the exact letter of the agreement.

Mrs Rigby tends to agree with them, she agrees that promises and contracts should be honoured.

But ... and in this instance there is a fairly large BUT ... these are unsettled times. All around the country people are losing their jobs and are desperate to find work. Plenty of people who thought their jobs were safe have seen their employers close down, so they've lost a regular salary. The lucky ones have been able to find more work, the less fortunate have taken hourly paid jobs, for which they get National Minimum Wage of £5.73 an hour. Many of these jobs are part time.

Some people will do almost anything to get work, including Alex Kearns who took a place on the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square to advertise himself. He's been lucky. Many haven't, including some of Mrs Rigby's extended family who are very worried about their future and wonder whether they will ever work again, especially those past their 40th year.

People who have lost their jobs have been promised all sorts of support by central government, but when they ask for help it isn't forthcoming. There's always an excuse, a loophole of some sort, especially if they're married and their husband or wife is working for more than 16 hours a week - irrespective of their wage. It would appear that some promises can be broken.

Recently workers at a wind turbine factory staged a sit in, because they didn't want it to close. They had support from the RMT union, but after eighteen days they gave up, nothing positive came of their protest and 625 jobs were lost - a huge number for the Isle of Wight.

So Mrs Rigby would like to say to these Cadbury workers - you aren't alone in your frustration. You threatened industrial action in 2007 when Cadbury wanted to move a production plant to Poland. Everybody objected to this, including local MPs, but the reality is that if a manufacturer wants to move production to another country they will - even one like Cadbury, that has invested £40m at Bournville.

Looking around the chocolate and confectionery industry Mrs Rigby notices that Mars moved production of its Twix bars to France and Starburst to the Czech Republic - 500 jobs have been lost in Slough.

Nestlé moved production from York and now make Smarties in Germany, Black Magic in the Czech Republic, and Dairy Box in Spain - 645 jobs have been lost in York.

Kraft closed the Terry's chocolate plant - Terry's All Gold and Chocolate Oranges are now made in Sweden, Poland and Slovakia - with the loss of another 316 jobs in York.

Why do you think these firms have move their production away from their historical bases in Britain? - It's because other countries are cheaper, people are willing to work long hours for less money than here in UK, business rates are lower, taxation is lower, transport costs are lower and, in general, so is the cost of living.

She urges you to be careful, and think long and hard before you decide to take strike action because no company is tied to this country. No manufacturer can print money, nor can they exist on debt - they must make a profit otherwise there's nothing to invest in new machinery or new technology and when that happens they cease to be competitive ... and cease trading.

Mrs R urges you to do some more talking, to think carefully about why you think production line staff should be treated differently from the rest of Cadbury's employees - who have accepted the pay deal - and try to reach an agreement that is good enough for now to tide you all through the bad times, so that when the good times come there will be work for you all - and also a chance of even higher wages in the future.

If you can't reach a deal then you risk losing everything, which would be a disaster for you, your families, your town and your children's future employment prospects.

Mrs R wishes you good luck.

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