Union pursues legal challenge

Unite slams Cepac Darlington ‘fire and rehire’ move

Cepac produces corrugated packaging and serves a raft of major clients. Image: Cepac
Cepac produces corrugated packaging and serves a raft of major clients. Image: Cepac

Union Unite has criticised packaging printer Cepac Darlington, which it claims that – in addition to threatening redundancies – has also told staff that they will be “fired and rehired” on inferior contracts.

More than 90 unionised workers at the site began strike action on 14 August in a dispute over pay, because of the company failing to enter into meaningful negotiations, according to the union.

But the business said in late August that the industrial action had forced it to begin a redundancy consultation, with the potential loss of up to 61 jobs as it accelerates its restructuring plan for the site.

It said that Unite’s all-out strike action had “reduced the company’s orders and puts future orders at serious risk”.

In a statement released yesterday (26 September), the union said the industrial action has now been extended until 23 October, taking it up to 10 weeks.

“In response, rather than enter into negotiations, Cepac is threatening to make 61 redundancies at the company. In addition, the company has told employees that they will be fired and rehired on inferior contracts,” Unite stated.

“Unite is also pursuing a legal case through an employment tribunal against Cepac for making illegal inducements to members. This is a result of Cepac making pay offers to individual members during negotiations, in contravention of the collective agreement with Unite.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Cepac’s behaviour is shocking. This is a company which seems determined to prolong industrial action by threatening to fire and rehire workers and make them redundant, rather than offer a fair settlement for workers.

“If Cepac thinks its bullyboy tactics will intimidate Unite then it needs to think again. Unite’s focus on the jobs, pay and conditions of members means that everyone involved in industrial action at Cepac is receiving the union's unswerving support.”

Unite said it has attempted to resolve the dispute by proposing talks at the conciliation service Acas, but this approach has been rejected by Cepac.

It added that, due to the company’s behaviour, it has also called for Cepac’s nominations in several categories in a packaging industry awards scheme to be withdrawn.

The union said the strikes are a result of Cepac “only being prepared to offer an 8% pay increase, which is below the true inflation rate (RPI) of 9%”.

“Additionally, the offer is subject to the workers accepting substantially worse conditions including longer hours, lower overtime rates and a change in shift patterns. The offer is in effect, a significant pay cut,” it stated.

This was disputed last month by Cepac group managing director Steve Moss, who outlined the specifics of and defended the company’s offer.

He described it as “generous and realistic” and one that would position the business for investment, transformation, and growth, away from its traditional and declining markets and into growth areas of volume, sustainable packaging.

Cepac said it would not be issuing a statement in response to Unite’s latest statement but earlier this month when the strike action was previously extended Moss had told Printweek that continued action was “likely to exacerbate the loss of customers and downturn in business experienced due to the current lack of capacity, including the total loss of all print capacity over the past weeks, as a consequence of the strike action”.

He had added the company had done and would continue to do its best to keep its customers supplied “but it is entirely understandable that they will seek supplies elsewhere when Darlington cannot supply”.

Cepac produces corrugated packaging and serves clients including HBCP, which in turn supplies customers including Greggs, Costa, Subway, and Pret A Manger, along with C&D Foods Group, whose customers include Aldi, Tesco, Morrisons, and Asda.

Other customers include Mars, Carlsberg, Innocent Drinks, Pernod, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, and Diageo.