Union seeks assurances over factory sale

UNION leaders are seeking urgent talks with the new owner of frozen food giant Birds Eye amid fears of job cuts.Private equity house Permira is to buy the European frozen food business of Unilever - which affects nearly 900 workers in Lowestoft - for more than £1 billion, subject to regulatory approval.

UNION leaders are seeking urgent talks with the new owner of frozen food giant Birds Eye amid fears of job cuts.

Private equity house Permira is to buy the European frozen food business of Unilever - which affects nearly 900 workers in Lowestoft - for more than £1 billion, subject to regulatory approval.

Unilever said the value of the workers' employment package would remain unchanged for the next three years.

But the GMB union said yesterday that its experience of Permira, which also owns the AA, had not been good.


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GMB official John Wilson said: "Our experience of Permira today is that they are asset-strippers and the plan they have announced to consolidate the sector translates into trade union language into job cuts.

"We are seeking an urgent meeting so that we can hold a frank discussion about the company's plans for the frozen food business."

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Thousands of workers across Europe will be affected by the sale, including staff based at processing factories in Hull and Lowestoft.

Bird's Eye in North Denes, Lowestoft employs nearly 900 workers and union officials are seeking further assurances that jobs will be secure.

The sale to Permira was hailed as the end of six months of uncertainty for the workers.

And it is believed Permira, which owns a string of UK assets including the AA motoring organisation and in the food industry the Little Chef chain, will look to strengthen its position within the industry.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard said yesterday: “The message I am getting from the factory is a good one.

I am pleased the uncertainty over whether there would be a buyer for the factory is over.

“Competition was intense which is a good sign that many think it is a strong business.”

He added: “The Bird's Eye factory is one of the most efficient in Europe, though I do think that the new owner has to communicate to the workers and the management what their plans for the future are.

“I have been reliably informed that the company which has bought the factory has guaranteed pay and working conditions for everyone at the Lowestoft factory - and presumably everywhere else - for three years.

“I remain hopeful there will be a secure future for the factory.”

Permira partner Cheryl Potter said the private equity firm looked forward to supporting the growth of the "iconic' brands.

She added: "The market sees few food deals of this size and very rarely involving brands of this stature.”

The proposed sale, which is subject to regulatory approval and consultation with employees, is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

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