Jobs threat in Unilever proposals


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The Independent Online

Hundreds of jobs are set to be lost at consumer goods giant Unilever under plans to close a number of sites, although its biggest factory will receive a £40 million investment boost.

Proposals would see the closure of factories in Swansea and Slough and a distribution site in Bridgend, while an office Ewloe, North Wales would also close and work be transferred.

The changes, to take effect by the end of 2013, could lead to 500 direct job losses and around 300 contractor and third party posts, while some jobs will also be outsourced to Unilever's IT centre in Bangalore, India.

The news was described as a "devastating blow" to workers affected by the closures.

Unilever said it planned to invest £40 million in its "historic home" of Port Sunlight, Wirral on Merseyside, with the creation of 150 new jobs.

Work would transfer from Ewloe to Port Sunlight, where the workforce would increase from the current 1,500 to 2,000.

Reviews of the proposals are expected to be concluded in the autumn, with a final decision taken in September.

Amanda Sourry, chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland, said: "Like many companies today, Unilever faces the challenge of creating growth opportunities against a backdrop of very tough economic conditions in Europe.

"While Unilever is growing well in the UK and globally, it will always be necessary to make changes which raise our game and ensure our continued success. We believe these proposals would substantially strengthen our platform for long-term growth and competitiveness.

"We understand that this period of uncertainty will cause concern for some of our employees who would be affected if changes were to be made, so we are fully committed to conducting all review and consultation processes properly and responsibly in order to provide clarity and certainty as soon as possible."

The company said its plans would "transform" Port Sunlight into a "significant centre of excellence" for the manufacture of shampoo and shower gel products, with growth potential for the next decade.

Around 225 jobs will be lost through the closure of the Swansea factory, which makes personal care products, around 250 at Slough, Berks which makes products including Radox, and 25 at the distribution site in Bridgend.

Unilever has a workforce of around 7,200 and makes products ranging from Ben and Jerry's ice cream, Marmite, PG Tips and Pot Noodles to Dove soap, Vaseline, Persil and Domestos.

Jennie Formby, national officer of Unite, said: "Unilever's announcement is a long and complex one and we will be assessing the long-term impact for our members over the next few days.

"While we have no recognition in the plants in South Wales and Slough, we appreciate that this is a devastating blow to the workforces involved and the local economies."

Wales' business minister Edwina Hart said: "Today's announcement will be a devastating blow for Unilever's workforce and their families in Wales.

"Officials from Welsh Government recently met with senior executives from Unilever to discuss the impact of the company's plans in Wales.

"We asked the company to fully consider the range of support offered to businesses by the Welsh Government and invited them to work together with us to implement a more sustainable solution for Wales by seeking to maintain current operations at its Welsh sites. The proposals for Ewloe, Swansea and Bridgend are therefore very disappointing, however we are hopeful Unilever can offer future opportunities for some of its north Wales workers through investment at its site at Port Sunlight, Merseyside."