NEARLY 350 jobs are in jeopardy after a food company announced plans to close a factory.
Kerry Foods, in Gilesgate Moor, Durham City, has launched a 90-day consultation period with workers after a drop in profits.
It is feared the move could lead to the axing of an estimated 346 staff.
The firm broke the news to stunned employees yesterday, blaming an urgent need to reduce costs. Union chiefs described the closure plans as “absolutely disastrous”.
If a rescue plan fails, the business proposes to transfer production from Durham to other sites in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
The factory, understood to be Durham’s third-largest private sector employer, has been based in the area for years. It processes sliced meats for a range of brands.
A spokesman for the company said market conditions had become “highly competitive and intensely challenging”.
“While we have made significant adjustments to our cost base and have sought to win new business, to date we have not identified a plan or a strategy to restore profitability to a sustainable level,” he said.
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“Unless an alternative plan can be identified, we may have no option but to consider the closure of the Durham factory and transfer of production to other sites.”
Joanne Thomas, Usdaw’s North East divisional officer, said: “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.
“We will examine the company’s business case for the proposed closure in detail but our overriding objective will be to keep the site open and to save jobs.”
Durham City Roberta Blackman-Woods and North East MEP Stephen Hughes pledged to help fight the closure and save as many jobs as possible.
“This is very distressing news and I am deeply concerned about the staff who are going to lose their jobs,” said Ms Blackman-Woods.
“Kerry Foods is one of the largest private sector employees in my constituency and the loss of these jobs on top of so many public sector job cuts is really bad news for Durham.
“I will also be inquiring about who is going to give these workers support to find alternative employment.
“In today’s labour market this will be a very difficult task.
“I am going to talk to the management and workers next week to better understand the issues and see what can be done to assist the staff during this extremely challenging time.”