Walkers workers set to turn in for last shift before crisp factory closes
More than 350 people will lose their jobs with the closure of a snack company's factory tomorrow.
Walkers, based on the North East Industrial Estate in Peterlee, is to close a week ahead of schedule.
It is understood a team of drivers will continue to work until Friday, December 31, which had been set as the final day of operations by bosses, while workers say production has already come to an end at the site.
It signals an end of an era for the town, which has been home to a crisp factory since 1960 by various companies, but by Walkers since 1989.
Its production line had been responsible for making Crinkles, Walkers Sensations, Scampi Fries, Bacon Fries, Cheese Moments and Cheetos Twisted.
The company has said the closure was part of its plans to make "significant productivity and efficiency savings crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainable growth of our business in the UK.”
Michael Hunt, a regional organiser for the GMB union, said: "The last Friday before Christmas this year brings with it some devastating news, the closure of the walkers factory in Peterlee.
"The closure of the crisp factory that has stood on that site since the 1960s comes as a massive blow for the GMB union members and the others who make up the workforce, with ripple effect of the 350-plus job losses being felt in the local community and economy.
"Myself and our GMB membership feel that it is simply a matter of Walkers and the multinational parent company PepsiCo putting profit before people.
"One worker put it to me that 'It may not be a white Christmas but it will be a bleak Christmas this year knowing I don't have a job to go back after the festive break, I have been thrown on the scrap heap after over 15 years of loyal service, thanks Walkers and happy New Year to you too.'
"The proposal to close was first put to the workers and the GMB union in March this year came as a massive shock to all despite prior rumours of the closure rife in the local community and local site management later confirming they knew of the proposed closure and moving of work to other sites down south prior to Christmas 2016.
"GMB continued to challenge the company on the proposal, however despite our best efforts late September, early Octobers saw confirmation that the site would close fully on December 31 December 2017, with the last day of work for the employees being December 22.
"The workforce made up in some cases whole families with mothers, fathers, sons and daughters reached out to the company via the union and some voiced their concern.
"One of them told me "What else will I do? I have worked here for nearly 30 years I don't know how to do anything else.'"
"Others confirmed they had spend all their working lives at walkers or had never worked anywhere else.
"At request of GMB, support measures have been put in place for the workforce following the closure including the holding of job fairs on the factory site within the last few weeks, the union aiding in approaching other companies that we have a relationship with to attend these events, including KP Snacks just along the A19 in Billingham whom also manufacture crisps.
"Some of the other support has been pledged to run into the new year by the company and of course GMB will continue to aid our members with any help and advice that we can offer them moving forward."
The union has said it heard rumours the factory would close ahead of New Year's Eve, but said it was given confirmation that would not be the case by managers.
One worker, who did not wish to be named, has said that many workers have not turned in for their shifts this week, knowing the final day was coming.
They said: "I think the early closure might be seen by them as a gesture of goodwill, as we are supposed to be paid up until December 31.
"A lot of people have worked there for a very long time.
"It would have been better if they'd given us just two months, but the fact is we've known it was coming since before the summer and I think a lot of people just weren't interested in going to work.
"This is going to be terrible for Peterlee.
"It's not just the drivers and production workers either, it's all the cleaners and catering staff, it's just terrible.
"I think they've tried to avoid embarrassment by closing it earlier."
PepsiCo, which owns Walkers, said: “It is with sadness that we cease manufacturing at the Peterlee site. It has been an important site for our business and we would like to thank all of our colleagues for their hard work and commitment over the years. Their continued professionalism these past months has been remarkable and we are incredibly grateful for their dedication.
“A wide range of training and support has been provided to help people find new roles following the closure, including a jobs fair, business start-up sessions, CV and interview workshops plus assistance with managing personal finances.
“We are grateful to the many organisations who joined forces with us to establish a task force to assist with the outplacement support for those impacted, including: Job Centre Plus; Durham Business Group; Durham County Council and Business Durham; and local colleges, to name but a few.”
When the closure plans were confirmed in May, Tracey Foster, Peterlee manufacturing director at PepsiCo UK, said: “We appreciate that this is very difficult news for everyone at the Peterlee site.
“We would like to emphasise that this decision in no way reflects the performance of our colleagues at Peterlee and we remain very grateful for their hard work and commitment.
“Our priority now is supporting and providing assistance to our colleagues who are impacted by this decision as we move into the process of consulting with employees on an individual basis about what this means for them personally.
"Peterlee has been an important site for our business but the proposal presents significant productivity and efficiency savings crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainable growth of our business in the UK.”