Update from Food and Work Network

The catalyst for the creation of the Food and Work Network was a membership survey conducted by Unity Consulting Scotland on behalf of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) in 2021. The survey showed clearly the link between low pay, insecure work and food insecurity. Shockingly, it provided stark evidence that a large proportion of the people who grow, produce, assemble, package, distribute and serve our food often cannot afford to purchase the very food produced from within the industry they are part of. The findings were a damning indictment of our wider society and also how food workers are treated and undervalued.

In the past few months there have been appalling examples of the poor treatment of food production workers and the abject failure of the law to protect them. Dawnfresh Seafoods and Orchard House Foods have no connection other than the manner in which they closed. Both companies went into administration, both did not pay their workers redundancy and monies they were owed, both passed on their financial obligations to the state and both sets of directors/owners carried on regardless with their other (money making) activities, apparently oblivious to the plight of the workers they had hitherto recently employed.

At Dawnfresh Seafoods in Uddingston the owner, one of Scotland’s richest people, Alastair Salvesen, closed the plant down last year. It was reported that a few days prior to the company going into administration he was seen emptying the plant of his expensive art collection, some of which adorned the walls of his lavish boardroom. Meanwhile, workers at the plant were left without wages and owed outstanding holiday pay with no redundancy paid by the company. Financial responsibility was passed by Mr Salvesen to the state who eventually paid the workers what they were owed. For many of them, who did not find other employment during the intervening period, this resulted in them having to visit food banks to feed themselves and their families.

A few months later Orchard House Foods also went into administration. One of the UK’s largest suppliers of prepared fruit, fresh fruit drinks and desserts, they supplied the likes of Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Pret a Manger, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Owned by Private Equity firm Elaghmore, Orchard House closed its plant in Gateshead last August and left the workers without redundancy. They  broke their promise to ensure it was paid before Christmas. In January they also closed their plant in Corby  before entering administration. All workers, just like their Dawnfresh counterparts, were left without pay and other owed monies. While the redundancy money, promised by the company, was ever paid to the workers at Gateshead by them. When the company was asked about them not paying redundancy they advised workers that ‘once an administrator was appointed former staff in the North East would be able to claim their redundancy through the Insolvency Service.”

With this statement they signaled clearly their strategy to avoid their responsibility to pay workers and pass this duty instead onto the taxpayer. Yet, the main owner of Orchard House Foods, Elaghmore, still boasts on their website about their £90m investment fund. The directors of Elaghmore are still able to carry on buying and selling firms and are free to move on to new ventures without one iota of censure from the state.

There is understandable anger from those left behind and their union, the BFAWU at how fast and loose these companies have played with people’s lives.  This cannot be allowed to continue. The legal frameworks that allow the owners of companies, such as Dawnfresh and Orchard House Foods, to continue to work on after behaving in this way must be changed. Directors and owners, who have the means and resources to uphold their obligations, but use a flawed law to avoid them, must be held to account.

The Bakers Union after dealing with these companies and watching their callous, ruthless methods and seeing the aftermath experienced by their members are campaigning for change. In the absence of amendments to the limited liability law, they are focused on campaigning for:

  • Director disqualifications – to stop directors from being able to move from company to company.
  • Fines – significant fines for acting in the way the Dawnfresh and Orchard House Foods owners behaved, putting in place a reverse incentive to stop companies treating workers so callously.

The next steps for the union is convincing the TUC General Council and other trade unions to make this a central campaign. Changing the law to protect workers, often the most vulnerable and low paid, from such exploitative and heartless employers should be a campaign that focuses the wider Labour and trade union movement, including the Labour Party. The Labour Party is likely to form the next Government and it should be incumbent on them to deal with this obvious injustice that allows workers to be treated so badly by employers such as Dawnfersh and Orchard House. The Bakers Union has started this campaign, one thing’s for sure they are not going away.

For more information about the Food and Work Network visit;

Food workers and Low pay — FAWN: Food & Work Network