THE rapid closure of Cadbury’s Bristol factory by the chocolate giant’s new American owners does not bode well for the future of 250 workers at the Chirk plant, says a union chief.
Within weeks of taking over Cadbury’s in a controversial £11.5 billion deal, Kraft Foods has decided to shut down the Somerdale factory in Keynsham, with the loss of 400 jobs, and transfer production to Poland.
The move had been planned by Cadbury’s before the takeover.
Kraft had indicated that if it took over, the plant would be reprieved.
But yesterday came the feared announcement that the closure would go ahead as planned.
Barry Roberts, Unite convenor at Cadbury’s Chirk factory and chairman of the Unite union within Cadbury’s, said: “Cadbury’s decided to close the Bristol plant years ago, moving production to Poland.
“When Kraft put in its takeover bid it said it intended to keep it open.
“At the time, the union asked Kraft what its rationale for doing this was and they said they couldn’t tell us.
“Cynics may say this assurance about Bristol was only a means of easing the takeover.”
He added: “At the moment nothing has changed as far as Kraft making announcements about Cadbury’s other UK factories is concerned.
“But the way Kraft has handled this – which some might describe as ruthless – does not appear to bode well for them.
“Kraft very quickly went back on what they said their intentions for Bristol were.
“We are now wondering what that means for the other factories in the group, including Chirk.
“As a union we haven’t yet met with Kraft management for them to give any signal of their future intentions.
“However, they have said that within six months they will have some idea of the way they want things to go.”
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, who called for urgent talks with Kraft chief executive Irene Rosenfeld after the takeover was sealed, said of the Bristol closure: “This will confirm the fears of those who felt the takeover would result in job losses.
“Kraft gave me no indication of this announcement when we met last week.
“It is for the company now to prove the worth of their other statements about investing in the UK.”
Kraft has said that after “extensive talks” with senior management at Cadbury, it found that Cadbury’s plans to close Somerdale were so far advanced that it would be “unrealistic” to reverse them.
Jennie Formby, Unite’s national officer for the food and drinks sector, said: “It is with great anger that we heard the announcement by Kraft that the closure of the Somerdale plant will go ahead as planned.
“Anger that Kraft deliberately misled many hundreds of decent men and women in Keynsham by saying that they would keep Somerdale open, despite Unite making very clear to them as early as September that this seemed impossible with the timeline for closure already seemingly set in stone.
“Anger that Kraft’s thirst for public approval during the most unpopular takeover we’ve seen in recent times drove the company to ignore those warnings and instead choose to state repeatedly that the site would not close.
“Anger that they have ignored repeated requests for meetings and discussions over the future, and anger that even as senior management were on site in Somerdale preparing to make their statement to our members, a Kraft director was assuring Unite that they had not made any decision yet but we would be the first to know.
“This sends the worst possible message to the 6,000 other Cadbury workers in the UK and Ireland.
“It tells them that Kraft cares little for its workers and has contempt for the trade union that represents them.”
The Somerdale plant, which makes Crunchie and Curly Wurly bars, is to close by the end of the year.
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