Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Second Merseyside factory employs lock-outs as a tactic

In February, staff at Mayr-Meinhoff Packaging in Bootle became the first British workers in 54 years to experience a lock out. I said at the time that this action by the bosses, still ongoing,"sets a worrying precedent." It now appears that this precedent is being acted upon.

Tranfoods staff addressed by Unite regional organiser Franny Joyce
The Working Class Self Organisation blog tells the full story;
Bosses at the Tranfoods plant in Wirral, Merseyside have 'locked out' the workers during negotations over redundancy. The Unions claim that the bosses have reneged on a redundancy offer and are now only prepared to pay 'statutory redundancy'. The owners of Tranfoods, 'Tulip', have only owned the business 38 days and plan to move production to Cornwall. This is the second 'lock out' on Merseyside in less than a month.

Around 200 workers at Tranfoods in Wirral, Merseyside today held a demonstration outside the factory after being ‘locked out’ last week by the management.

The owners of the factory, ‘Tulip’, had started a period of consultation with a view to closing the factory due to a decline in orders. The unions had been in negotiation with Tulip regarding redundancy pay, but have accused Tulip of reneging on an agreement. Tulip deny that any agreement was ever reached, and are now saying they will only pay the basic legal minimum redundancy.

When workers arrived for work last week, they found the gates locked. They were handed letters advising them that:
Production had ceased at the plant due to significant operational issues
No further information was provided. Today’s demonstration will coincide with a meeting at the plant between the bosses and the trade unions.

A trade union spokesman said:
The workers have been treated with contempt by Tulip which is the UK arm of Danish Crown, who took over the plant last December. After just 38 days of ownership they have announced the closure of this site, locked out the workers, and boarded up the site.
Tulip have issued a brief statement in which they say:
All the staff are Tranfoods have been working extremely hard, but the operational difficulties are far worse than we envisaged.
Tulip, who make cooked meat products for Tesco now plan to shift all production to a factory in Cornwall.
It is difficult to imagine it being a coincidence that this follows on so close after the MMP lockout began. Certainly, the fact that it has continued for this period of time despite the continual large presence on the picket line may have emboldened Tulip.

MMP workers picketing in Bootle
In part, this will be down to the way that the original lockout was handled. Though the fact that an occupation followed that first act was indeed promising, Unite the union managed to scupper this by negotiating an end to the occupation without any guarantee on the lockout ending. The picket line has remained solid, but either an occupation or a lock-in is needed to turn the tables on the bosses.

Either way, those facing these attacks need as much practical solidarity as possible. No doubt there will be a presence at the Tulip factory much the same as there is at MMP, and it takes no effort to stroll down to the pickets, join the line, and express your support.

As well as that, next week there will be a rally in Liverpool City Centre in support of the locked out workers at MMP. The Facebook event can be found here, and this will be a prime opportunity to demonstrate your solidarity with those suffering these attacks if you aren't able to attend picket lines in the morning. Come along, and invite others from your workplace, union branch, etc to do the same.

But above all there needs to be a serious debate about how we respond to such attacks by employers. Clearly, static protests, a to b marches and one day strikes aren't enough to beat bosses willing to lock out their staff wholesale. As they up the ante, so should we.