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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Families' fears over Carlisle food factory jobs

A long and bitter dispute at a Carlisle factory is leaving families living in fear for their livelihoods, according to a city councillor.

Workers at Cavaghan and Gray are finding the two-month stand-off “stressful” because no resolution has been found to the deadlock over new terms and conditions.

Lee Sherriff, city councillor for Harraby, said the ongoing row is hitting people hard, particularly those in households where both adults work at the factory.

Miss Sherriff is keenly concerned about the issue because whole households in her ward rely on the factory for the family income.

She said today: “You’ve got people feeling insecure and worried about what’s going to happen with their job which is under threat. It’s very stressful.”

Tomorrow she will join Carlisle MP John Stevenson at a meeting of both sides to try to unlock the dispute.

Mr Stevenson rejected suggestions he had joined the debate late, saying he was ahead of the city council in arranging a meeting with management “three or four weeks ago,” but they hadn’t turned up.

Mr Stevenson said it was normal to allow management and staff to negotiate first but he was intervening now because he considered the issue “back to square one.”

The sticking point centres around new terms and conditions for 800 staff which include reductions in rights to sick pay, redundancy and overtime.

Both sides had appeared to have moved closer in recent weeks with talk of “progress” coming out of the Durranhill industrial estate.

Mr Stevenson said: “I have requested this meeting to discuss this issue with management and to raise my concerns that local people will have their employment terms and conditions changed.” He said he would “attempt to resolve this serious issue or create a more favourable compromise.”

Speaking this morning, Miss Sherriff said: “Hopefully he can give some support to the negotiations to get the best result for the workers.”

The dispute centres on a controversial raft of new terms and conditions presented by new owners, the West Bromwich-based 2 Sisters Food Group.

The food giant took over 15 months ago after a £341 million buyout of previous owners Northern Foods.

The new terms have been argued as necessary to protect the ready made meal supermarket supplier in a competitive market where rivals are shutting sites.

Financial results earlier this year reportedly showed a 10 per cent increase for group-wide results to £565m. Forecasts for the Carlisle acquisition alone suggested a £15m to £25m rise in turnover.

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