Kids and grown-ups love it so, but not so much the union workers. The brand is famous for being loved equally by children on sleepovers and Prime Minister David Cameron during fraught EU budget negotiations, but this Christmas won’t be sweet for the firm’s workers in Yorkshire.
That’s because the 270 members of the GMB union at Haribo Confectionery in Pontefract are set to strike over claims that some staff will be forced to work over the festive season and that they are “fed up” that the firm is “dictating to its employees rather than cooperating with them”.
According to Steve Huckerby, the GMB regional organiser at the plant, the firm has “gone back on a commitment” they made to workers that they would not be forced to work over the Christmas period to increase production of gummi bears (officially known as Golden Bears).
He told the Independent: “We are expecting our members to vote for strike action because the company is demanding staff work over Christmas, despite the fact the factory closed over this period for the last 15 years, and staff were told at the beginning of the year that this would remain the case.”
He added that the firm was doing “fantastically well” and was it “highly profitable” but was refusing to take “families into account”, and had been “reluctant” to work with the union at the plant since it was formally recognised by Haribo in 2012.
However the firm disputes this, expressing surprise and disappointment over the ballot for strike action: “We have invited any employee who does not want to work on these dates to submit holiday requests. This opportunity has already been taken up by a number of team members. Where applicable we have also honoured existing holiday plans and ensured those colleagues have been given the time off work. In addition any employee working these dates will receive their existing pay, two additional days of holiday which could be taken at an alternative time or be paid in lieu.”
The German sweet maker, which is set to open a new £92m factory in the area, creating 300 additional jobs, famously takes its inspiration from comics and children’s books, and until his death last year the head of the company, Dr Hans Riegel, used to personally respond to all the letters from young fans.
However relations between the firm and staff at Pontefract seem to have broken down. The key issue of dispute seems to be the firm’s demand that some staff work Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 December to meet “an increase in product demand” for the sweets, which contain some fruit, including carrot and mango.
The firm has more than a dozen factories across the world, producing tens of thousands of gimmi bears an hour, while in the UK it is the second largest sugar confectioner, selling 250m bags of sweets with total sales in excess of £150m in 2012. Created in the 1920s, the sweets soon became hugely popular with young children, prompting Kaiser Wilhelm II to remark that the sweets were “best thing to come out of the Weimar Republic”.
More recently David Cameron munched through a packet of the sweets during last February’s late night EU budget negotiations, and they have reportedly become a favourite among the cast of Downton Abbey while on set.
Mr Huckerby said: “They need to start treating people with respect and dignity; instead we’ve had a dictatorial attitude from Haribo.”
What is clear though is that the grumbling workers in the Yorkshire plant get the same sugary benefit as their German colleagues, who in Bonn are reportedly allowed to “test” as many of the gummi bears, liquorice whirls and sugary marshmallows as they like during their shifts.