On 25/11/15, Hovis made a company announcement, stating that they are to cease making bread at their Wigan site, with the proposed closure of the thirty sack bread plant. The BFAWU has entered in to a forty-five day consultation period, which began on 26/11/15. The company have put forward a business case which states that the current downturn in the bread market and a long term forecast of ‘no change’ has led to this decision. However, the site will continue to manufacture crumpets and be a distribution point for bread products made at other sites around the country.
This announcement came completely out of the blue, as we had only recently seen the seventeen sack plant closed and moth-balled in July of this year with the loss of forty jobs, following the consultation period. The Union believed that any further cuts to the operation would take place at other Hovis sites, as the Wigan bakery is the only one in the group to produce crumpets, and is conveniently located close to the motorway network, thus ensuring the freshness of products and efficient delivery. This announcement means that there will be a further loss of up to one-hundred and eleven positions across the site, covering management, production, technical services, engineering and administration staff.
As an ex-employee of the Hovis, Wigan site with twenty-two years of service, I have seen lots of changes over the years. I have also made many friends and have some great memories of my time there. However, there can be no doubt that incompetence, greed and a culture of confrontation at the top levels of management have contributed greatly to company’s current position. Hovis has been treated like a cash cow, with a revolving door policy in terms of owners, chief executives and managing directors, who have bled the business dry before walking away with golden handshakes as a reward for failure, leaving shop floor staff to bear the brunt of their lack of business nous.
I am of the opinion, that since the BFAWU’s historic victory against the company’s use of exploitative labour and zero hours contracts in 2013, the Wigan site has been targeted for a managed decline and a scaling back of jobs and skills, resembling nothing more that the business equivalent of a death of a thousand cuts, which I fear may lead to the eventual total closure of the bakery. This decision by the company will not only be devastating for our loyal, hard working BFAWU members at the site, it will have a detrimental effect on the local community, of which the bakery has been a central part going back generations; in many cases, employing fathers, sons, mothers and daughters.
As a Trade Union, we will be entering these consultations in a positive manner. Despite having very little to work with, we are hopeful that we can put forward counter-proposals, which may save a number of jobs. We would ask that the company be open-minded and willing to engage in ideas that might protect jobs, as well as the local economy and taxpayers, who will ultimately have to foot the bill in welfare support, should the company follow through with this potentially damaging decision.
Geoff Atkinson (BFAWU No.4 Regional Organising Secretary)
Tel: 07834930002 Email: [email protected]