More than 1,400 back petition as union chiefs prepare to meet Walkers over factory closure plan

The Walkers factory in Stephenson Road, Peterlee.

The Walkers factory in Stephenson Road, Peterlee.

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Meetings will begin today between bosses at Walkers and union representatives over the firm's proposal to close its Peterlee factory.

The GMB union said it was seeking discussions with the management of the North East Industrial Estate factory as it seeks to support the 355 production staff and 25 HGV drivers who have been told their jobs at at risk.

The firm has said it is proposing to close the East Durham site because its production levels are the lowest out of four of its factories, with the move planned to make savings as it looks to grow its business in the UK.

Easington MP Grahame Morris has also called on the company, which is owned by American firm PepsiCo, to release more details on its plans.

Staff are expected to return to work today after yesterday morning's meeting where they were told the devastating news.

Within hours of the announcement, a petition calling on the company to keep the site open had been launched online.

Today, more than 1,400 people have backed it.

Among the comments left under the appeal is one from a worker who has been employed by the company for 14 years.

He said: "The factory and the people have become a part of the family, it's going to be very difficult to start all over again looking for employment.

"Its going to be the same for a lot of people, who have worked here most of their lives."

Another supporter said: "This factory needs to be kept open.

"I can remember going past this factory on the bus 43 years ago when I was a young kid.

"Walkers where's your loyalty to your workers?

"Without them you would be nothing."

One woman wrote: "Our community has suffered enough with job losses.

"Walkers has been part of the community for a long time and not only has it helped our community economically, the workers have kept it going and worked hard.

"It's soul destroying that the workers always suffer even though they have devoted a big part of their lives to this factory."

The consultation period for the workers is due to begin on Wednesday, March 15, and will run until April 28.

The date of the factory's proposed closure is New Year's Eve.

The petition can be signed here.