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Bernard Matthews workers ‘feel betrayed’ as job losses confirmed at Norfolk site

PUBLISHED: 17:46 06 April 2017 | UPDATED: 07:13 07 April 2017

Bernard Matthews factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bernard Matthews factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Workers at Bernard Matthews “feel betrayed and let down” after confirmation that 128 jobs are to be lost, a union has claimed.

The cuts will see 69 chicken production and 59 managerial jobs go, said the union Unite, which represents around 550 of the turkey producer’s staff.

However, the final total is lower than the 155 feared when the plans were announced two months ago, with some redundancies being avoided through staff being redeployed to other parts of the business.

Unite said workers had been led to believe that when the company was purchased last September by the Boparan Private Office, owned by 2 Sisters food entrepreneur Ranjit Singh Boparan, more business for chicken production would be generated.

The 69 chicken production jobs are at the south site at the company’s headquarters at Great Witchingham. The other job losses are managerial, technical and clerical staff. The north site, which deals with turkey production, is unaffected, said Unite.

Regional officer Steve Harley said: “We are obviously disappointed by the announcement that the new owners will cease all year round chicken production at Great Witchingham.

“Our members, who met senior representatives of the 2 Sisters Food Group during the transition period, feel very let down, as these representatives indicated that investment would secure existing jobs and there was also the opportunity to attract more chicken business to the site, so utilising existing spare capacity.

“This has clearly not happened and, therefore, many of those workers feel betrayed as they consider they were misled.”

Mr Harley added that the union understood “difficult decisions needed to be made” to return the firm to profit, but it would ensure cost-cutting did not focus solely on the workforce.

“Bernard Matthews has clearly suffered greatly from a lack of business strategy under the previous owners, Rutland Partners and we remain hopeful that [the owners] will work closely with Unite to ensure both profitability and job security are treated as equal priorities,” he said.

A spokesman for Bernard Matthews said: “We have completed the process and explored all options available to us to mitigate job losses.

“After discussion with colleagues and union representatives the decision was taken to cease production of chicken and to restructure head office.

“These changes will enable the business to focus on what we’re best at and allow us to make things happen with agility and pace.”

Bernard Matthews was bought out of administration by the Boparan Private Office in September last year, in a deal which saw the producer’s creditors left £23m out of pocket.

At the time, a spokesman for the Boparan Private Office said the deal had protected the jobs of 2,000 staff, adding: “We have a proven track record in turning around businesses and we aim to make Bernard Matthews great again.”

Unite represents about 550 of the 1,400-strong workforce at the production sites at Great Witchingham and Holton in Suffolk. Parts of the former Bernard Matthews business have been transferred to other divisions, or subsidiary parts of the 2 Sisters Group of companies, for example, the animal feed operations at Bawsey, near King’s Lynn.

The union said that, at present, hourly paid staff at Holton, Suffolk are not affected by these announcements.

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