Chelmsford: Workers’ representatives pledge to fight to keep Britvic jobs in Essex

Richard Howitt and Britvic workers yesterday

Richard Howitt and Britvic workers yesterday - Credit: Archant

Worker representatives have vowed to fight for hundreds of jobs at a landmark Essex factory earmarked for closure.

Drinks manufacturer Britvic caused shock in the county last month when it announced plans to close its plant in Widford in Chelmsford with the loss of more than 200 jobs. The closure, due to take place in March next year, will end a 150-year old association between the town and the company, believed to be the biggest private sector employer in Chelmsford.

By Labour Euro MP for east of England Richard Howitt, who yesterday spoke to workers at a meeting in Chelmsford, has pledged to do all he can to keep the jobs in Essex.

He said: “Britvic needs to rethink its threat of job losses – the Widford plant has long contributed to overall profits for the company and has deep historical roots in the local community.

“It is a key employer in Chelmsford and decisions made elsewhere will have a severe impact on individuals, families and the local community.

“Many of the workers have been here 20 or 30 years and have been told they can apply for positions in Leeds. There is no way 230 people are going to uproot from Essex to Leeds.

“I want to see the company change its mind, to keep the jobs in Chelmsford, and I will continue to campaign with their union Unite for those under threat to keep their jobs.”

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Also at the meeting was Dave Turnbull, a regional officer for Unite, who promised “different forms of action” to convince company bosses to u-turn.

He said: “ We don’t feel the company has come up with a justifiable reason why Widford should be closed.

“The original statement was made at a time when the company announced huge profits and it a slap in the face that the people who have contributed to that are told their jobs are now going to France and Ireland.

“We intend to run a local compaign with different forms of action, so we can influence shareholders and they come round to thinking this is a bad decision.”

But Chelmsford MP Simon Burns who met with Britvic executives last month, said he had received no indication the the company intended to backtrack and that the had been “reassured” Britvic was doing all it can “to help as many people as possible to find alternative employment.”

He said: “They will be using an outplacement company to assist members of staff in preparing their CV’s and providing other help to assist people finding alternative employment. They will also be offering the possibility of relocation to their existing workforce to other Britvic factories, like Beckton and Norwich, and all office based employees will be offered the opportunity to transfer to the company’s head office in Hemel Hempstead.

A Britvic spokesperson added: “The proposal to close two of our factories was clearly a difficult decision, but the proposed changes are needed to make us more efficient and competitive so that we can protect the long term future of the business.

“We are currently in discussions with our employees and associated unions. We have met with Simon Burns MP who was reassured by the support we will be offering our employees, and have also met representatives from the City and County Councils this week to discuss how we can work together. We will be happy to meet with Mr Howitt to discuss the proposals in more detail.

“As we have stated previously, we are absolutely committed to providing as much support as needed to all affected employees.”