DECISION day is looming over the future of one of Durham’s largest private sector employers and its 350 staff.
Irish firm Kerry Foods announced plans in March to shut its sliced meat, snack and bakery products plant in Gilesgate village.
Attempts to make it turn a profit have failed in the last six months despite desperate efforts from company bosses.
A consultation period with workers has now elapsed and it is believed staff are having “one-to-one” interviews on redundancy packages and possible redeployment to other factories.
The Usdaw union said a decision on the fate of the plant should be made this week.
George Cain, North East organiser for Usdaw, said: “We’re getting to the end of the process now and an announcement should be made soon.
“It’s been a drawn out process and extremely stressful for the workforce, although I must say they have been brilliant and professional throughout.”
Kerry, which took over the factory from Unilever in 1994, is Durham’s third-biggest private sector employer.
Stewart Watkins, managing director of Business Durham, the county council’s industry development unit, has vowed to assist the workers in finding new employment if necessary.
“We have contacted the company and are already considering how we can assist,” he said.
“We will be looking at all options, working with other agencies to offer advice and assistance to the workforce and to those companies within the supply chain.”
When the threat to the plant was announced in March, workers left in shock after their shifts shouting “disgusted” as they were told it would close in July unless its operator came up with any new ideas to turn the business around.
Joanne Thomas, Usdaw’s North East divisional officer, said at the time: “This is absolutely disastrous news for everyone who works at Kerry Foods, for their families and for the whole community.
“Many of our members have worked at the site for years and a number even work alongside their parents or sons and daughters so any closure could destroy the incomes of entire families.
“There has been no prior warning that closure was being considered or even a suggestion that the future of the site could be in doubt, so our members are understandably extremely shocked, angry and distressed.”
Frank Hayes, director of corporate affairs at Kerry Group, said: “The workforce is fantastic and this is a very regrettable decision we have had to make.
“The facility has been making a loss for quite a while and the workforce has known that we have been trying to secure the future of the site.”
He said they would consider other options during the statutory 90-day consultation period but were now not accepting any new orders for the site.
He added that work would be moved to sites in Ireland, Spalding in Lincolnshire and Attleborough in Norfolk.
This is absolutely disastrous news for everyone who works at Kerry Foods