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Minister slams firm after job cuts

PUBLISHED: 06:09 23 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

A GOVERNMENT minister has rebuked one of the world's largest food processing companies for the "shameful" way it had handled the redundancies of more than 300 Suffolk and Norfolk employees before Christmas.

A GOVERNMENT minister has rebuked one of the world's largest food processing companies for the "shameful" way it had handled the redundancies of more than 300 Suffolk and Norfolk employees before Christmas.

The Del Monte Corporation was slammed by junior employment minister Nigel Griffiths in a Hosue of Commons debate initiated by Norfolk South-West Tory Gillian Shephard on the axing of staff at the chilled salad factory in Methwold, just north of Brandon.

Mr Griffiths yesterday said the company had failed to consult the relevant employment agencies which could have helped some of the staff find new work, following the decision to get rid of more than 300 staff after the loss of a major contract for the Sainsbury's supermarket chain.

"Redundancies are sad but an inevitable part of commercial life," the minister acknowledged. "Some companies handle this well and treat their workforce with dignity and compassion - working with employees and trades unions to save jobs wherever possible, and where jobs cannot be kept, working with local agencies to help secure alternative employment.

"Sadly, Del Monte in this case has not been one of those companies."

He said if the company had co-operated fully with the East of England Development Agency and the employment service, used to handling difficult announcements on job cuts, much more could have been achieved to help the 300 find alternative work.

Del Monte took over the Methwold plant on the Suffolk-Norfolk border when Fisher Foods went into receivership last June. However, it lost the Sainsbury's contract in the autumn which amounted to 60% of the factory's production.

Mrs Shephard said in the debate that the December 16 announcement of 300 job losses was "a shattering blow" to the local community and the timing before Christmas was cruel. In some cases, up to three members of a family worked at the factory.

Mrs Shephard said it had taken weeks for the company to offer help to employees - too late for the vast majority who had already been sacked.

"I recognise the Government's role in this kind of issue is limited. We all live in the real world, which is one of difficult decisions and harsh competition.

"When such decisions have to be made, there is not always time to do everything perfectly. However, in the case of the Del Monte employees, it seems that procedures were rushed, unclear, and uncaring. The workforce did not deserve such treatment."

After the debate, Mrs Shephard said she was "heartened" by the response of the minister, one of the most positive she had encountered in nearly 20 years as an MP.

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