Up to 380 people look set to lose their jobs with the proposed closure of Peterlee’s Walker factory on New Year’s Eve - with a further risk to its neighbouring warehouse.
The GMB, which represents the majority of union members who work at the crisp and snack factory on the town’s North East Industrial Estate, has said 355 production staff and 25 HGV drivers have been told it plans to shut the site on December 31.
If the proposal goes ahead, all workers would finish their last shift on that day.
Consultation on redundancy officially begins on Wednesday, March 15, and will end on Friday, April 28.
The union has also been told owner Pepsi Co is looking to hand over the running of its warehouse next door to a third party.
If that goes ahead, the workers could be moved across, but there could be a risk to positions within that part of the business.
I have grave concerns, not just for the employees on the site and their families, but for the town of Peterlee and its people as a whole.Michael Hunt
In the meantime, the GMB is seeking information about what training and support will be offered to staff, as well as information on whether another business could take on the factory as a going concern, as well as questions about why its productivity has dropped.
Michael Hunt, the union’s regional organiser with responsibility for the Walkers site, said the first indication made to him was when a shop steward got in touch to say all the staff were told not to go into work, but to a 10am meeting at Ramside Hall Hotel.
He was then called by an HR representative to ask he attend a session earlier, followed by a conversation about the proposals.
He said: “They said they have four sites across the country, and the Peterlee site - which has been there for decades- in terms of productivity is not that of the other sites.
“That is no reflection on its employees, but that is the situation.
“They are looking to close one site, and that is Peterlee.
“There’s not been long since we found out, so there’s not been much chance to speak to members, but this will have a big impact on the North East.
“The Government has been talking about making big investment here, but in my opinion it’s not the Northern Powerhouse, but the Northern Poorhouse.
“I have grave concerns, not just for the employees on the site and their families, but for the town of Peterlee and its people as a whole.
“It’s going to have a massive affect, especially as they’re looking to close the site on December 31.
“They have asked if it will be done in tranches, but they’ve been told they’ll all go on the same day.
“I think it’s been such a shock.
“Some people have never had another job. They left school, worked there and now they find themselves for the first time looking at not having a job.
“I will be asking what they will be providing the workers and will be meeting the company to seek answers, and I will be challenging them in that meeting.”
A spokeswoman for the company said: “We have briefed the Union GMB.
“We will of course now be talking to all our partners to explain our reasoning and we will consult the GMB and other employee representatives fully on the proposal before making a final decision.”