Today Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, once again spoke up in parliament on behalf of Britvic and Unilever workers who will lose their jobs when the two food manufacturing companies leave Norwich.
In a speech on in the chamber of the house of commons, Clive Lewis questioned the fairness of the consultations before closures were announced. Clive re-iterated his firm support for Britvic workers taking strike action because of their unhappiness with redundancy terms offered by the company.
The MP also took to the task the government for breaking its promises to do everything it could to help workers threatened with losing their jobs and criticised the government’s stewardship of an economic system that encourages the outcomes we have seen in Norwich.
The MP’s speech came as the GMB Union stepped up their campaign of industrial action. They point out in a leaflet about the dispute that the Norwich factory is profitable and that while 240 shop floor workers in Norwich are due to lose their livelihoods the Chief Executive of Britvic Simon Litherland has been awarded a 19% pay rise and was paid £2.1 million last year. Union members are taking various industrial actions within the factory in defence of their jobs.
In his speech Clive Lewis questioned whether his neighbouring MP Chloe Smith had done anything to help save the jobs of the Robinsons workers.
Read more about the GMB action here: https://www.gmblondon.org.uk/news/gmb-members-at-britvic-to-take-further-strike-action
This is the full text of Clive Lewis’s speech to Parliament:
“I’ve no doubt some members here will have heard me speak before in this chamber of the Britvic and Unilever factories in Norwich. A corporate act that will see hundreds of job losses and millions of pounds from the wider economy stripped and lost.
• Started in the early 1800s by Jeremiah Colman the mustard brand has become a household name across the country. As a young lad mustard and Colmans were interchangeable names
• In that time, it’s also become an integral part of the very fabric of the city of Norwich.
• Therefore it’s not just the physical impact in terms of buildings or the impact of the loss of money to the local economy, it’s the effect of this on the people of my city.
• Psychologically this is a blow to the identity of Norwich, our history and our heritage.
But as if that wasn’t enough, I must now tell this house of the disgraceful way the workers and their trade union representatives have been disregarded by Unilever and especially Britvic. Some of these staff are third generation workers, part of families that have committed their entire working lives to a company that has now decided to leave the city, completely forgetting that they are the very people that helped make them the brands they are today.
When Britvic made the announcement about the Norwich closure, the company stated that this was simply a proposal, and the final decision had not been made. They promised to run a meaningful consultation and listen to the issues raised. And yet, just two days after this announcement, they started to offer voluntary redundancies to members of staff. That is not the action of a company committed to meaningful consultation, and the consultation that followed was a total sham, with Britvic providing no real evidence for the closure, and refusing to listen to alternatives put forward by workers that could have resulted in huge savings, kept the plant open, and kept these workers in their jobs.
It was hardly a surprise when, in December, Britvic announced that they would be moving their operations elsewhere. This was announced alongside a promise that it would treat the workers fairly and minimise the impact on the local communities – something they did by offering workers the statutory minimum redundancy.
Seven months down the line and Britvic have showed absolute disdain for the community of workers that have united against this injustice, refusing to meet with the union representing their workers, and refusing to improve the redundancy package offered to them. As a result, GMB have been forced into an unprecedented situation whereby their only option is to strike. I stand in complete solidarity with these workers that have planned 18 days of strikes over the next 6 weeks, and I think it is a total disgrace that Britvic have showed no concern for the well-being of their employees.
Some people will shrug and say this is the way of the world. Others will tell you that there are plenty of other jobs for the sacked workers to go to. But the reality is that hundreds of workers in Norwich have been cast adrift by a government and economic system that has let all of us down again. A system that ignores the negative impacts of de-industrialisation in cities outside London. A system where all that matters is how much, and how quickly, profits can be maximised. And a system that legitimises Britvic in saying that these closures are being made in “the best interests of the business”. Let us be clear that this is a decision made in the best interests of the shareholders and executives that will receive huge profits when they sell off the Carrow site.
I applaud the valiant efforts of the Unions, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership in trying to find a viable solution to keep these jobs in Norwich. But I cannot say the same for this government. When this issue came to ahead at the end of last year, Greg Clark and Chloe Smith promised that they would do all they could to save the jobs of these workers. Where is the evidence to show that they did anything of the sort? In fact, they have simply become part of a government that has failed to understand the lessons of the past 35 years that show government cannot be a spectator when it comes to industry.
The Government likes to portray themselves as the party of business, but this is a prime example of how they have encouraged a system that works for the shareholders, not for workers. They have created a system whereby companies can pick and choose the members that make up a so called ‘independent’ consultation group, and a system whereby workers are only allowed reactive rights in challenging the authenticity of a consultation process after they have already lost their jobs. This is a disgrace.
I am devastated by the way that these closures have been handled, and the disregard these companies have shown for their workers and communities. I believe that we must review and overhaul the process by which we deal with site closures, closing the loopholes that help companies to flout the rules, with little to no consequences once the gates are closed and production halted. When will the government step up and create a safe and secure economic system that takes seriously the issues of de-industrialisation and unemployment in the most economically vulnerable towns and cities in the UK? It is not too late to intervene and ensure that these workers are listened to and treated with the respect that they deserve. The Government owes this to the workers at Britvic and Unilever. And it owes it to the city of Norwich”.
Clive Lewis spoke in the chamber of the House of Commons from 15:54 to 16:02. Parliamentlive.tv coverage is here: https://goo.gl/QXPP6z