COACHLOADS of workers employed by the giant chocolate confectionary company Cadbury’s descended on Westminster last Tuesday, the day that Cadbury shareholders formally voted to accept the hostile bid from the American cheese company, Kraft.
They came to came to campaign to save their jobs and to enlist their MPs in that fight – and mindful of the fate of the Yorkshire based Terry’s chocolate manufacturer taken over by Kraft. Just three years after taking over, Kraft closed the Terry’s factory and moved production of the famous brand to eastern Europe, where wages are lower.
And Kraft is now complaining that it had to pay Cadbury’s shareholders above the market price; they will be looking to recoup that money and most probably through instant job cuts.
The workers were also lobbying MPs to support a campaign launched by their union, Unite, to urgently amend takeover regulations so that the loss of a great British manufacturer can never happen again.
Unite has repeatedly approached Kraft for details of its plans for Cadbury, but in vain. Kraft has declined to provide details of its plans and to give the workforce confidence that they will not be facing the axe.
Unite is calling on the Government to support their efforts to pin Kraft down on commitments, particularly in respect of the “promises” made throughout the bidding process that they would save the soon-to-close Somerdale plant in Keynsham.
Fears are deepening that with Kraft's heavy debt, estimated to be around £22 billion, Cadbury's new owners will inevitably look to make savings through cuts in the operation of its new acquisition, and that manufacturing in Britain will pay the price.
Unite says that workers and the Midlands community feel they have been heavily let down by the big shareholders and the City, who have ignored their plea of "Don't sell us out!", but that Government intervention can help secure them a future.
Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for food and drink, said: "While institutional shareholders and hedge funds will be selling out Cadbury and its workforce in the City – despite huge opposition from private shareholders and the general public – we will be fighting for its future.
"It is the dedicated Cadbury workforce and its army of loyal consumers who are this company's future. This is a great company, loved around the world and providing good jobs for thousands of people. We need to keep it that way – which is why we're coming to Westminster to ask our government and our MPs to do all they can to make Kraft commit to jobs and investment for Cadbury.
"We will also be urging Government to reform takeover regulations to ensure this never happens again; employees must have be given the voice and be able to negotiate guarantees before any takeover so that workers don’t pay the price for takeovers like this."
Unite's deputy general secretary Jack Dromey said: "Our fear is that the Kraft takeover is not in the national interest, and in the months of this hostile takeover process, we have heard nothing from Kraft to calm fears that it is in the interest of the Cadbury workforce either.
"Instead, the fate of manufacturing workers in Terry's of York, who found that Kraft ownership saw their plant close, weighs heavily on the minds of the Cadbury workforce."
He added: "The Government must secure meaningful pledges from Kraft, and police them so that Kraft cannot again walk away from a UK workforce.
"Ministers must make it abundantly clear that closures and mass redundancies will not be accepted by the British government or the British people."