Arla subsequently released a comment saying it was ‘surprised’ by the union’s statement.
Unite says Arla Foods faces a possible six-figure sum of damages and costs over its ‘failure to consult’ before announcing 230 jobs would be lost at its fresh milk processing plant in Essex.
The union is taking legal action on behalf of its 75 members under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, claiming the company failed to inform and consult on collective redundancies.
Unite calls process a ‘sham’
According to the union’s regional officer, Mark Barter, there was no consultation on ways to avoid the dismissals and/or reduce the number of dismissals in good time prior to the decision actually being made.
“Unite wasn’t notified until March, so any consultation then became a fait accompli; basically it was a sham process,” Barter said.
“Our solicitors have now written to our members regarding our potential claim, which would involve a protective award of up to 90 days compensation per member. The company is aware that we have started legal proceedings.”
Barter added, “The consultation process has now ended and termination dates are being handed out to workers, although these look like they are being staggered.
“We claim that Arla Foods is flouting not only the letter, but the spirit of the 1992 Act – and this should not go by unchallenged.”
Arla ‘liaised with Unite’
Arla, however, in its statement to DairyReporter said, “We have liaised with Unite throughout the collective consultation process and continue to work closely with our colleagues through individual consultation.
“We have undertaken and continue to consider a wide range of actions to mitigate the number of people impacted by the proposed closure through redeployment internally to other sites or by securing alternative employment outside of Arla where possible.”
Arla said that the company is urgently seeking clarification from Unite “as to why they have issued this statement at this time, which we do not believe assists any of those impacted by the changes at the site.”
Arla said that it would be inappropriate to comment any further as the consultation process at the site is ongoing.
The company’s Aylesbury site, with an annual capacity to process 1bn liters of milk, is taking on most of the processing from Hatfield Peverel.