HUNDREDS of Tyneside jobs are set to be axed as tea-maker Twinings looks to move production to Poland.
The company’s 263 staff in North Shields have been told they are likely to lose their livelihoods after company bosses decided to refocus on the Eastern European and global markets.
Workers were yesterday called to a meeting in Gosforth to be told that Twinings could potentially close the entire site by September 2011, with just a handful of jobs kept at another factory in Andover, Hampshire.
Workers in North Shields repackage tea and sell it abroad, but company bosses insist the realities of their business model leave them with no choice but to make changes.
The firm is growing its markets in Eastern Europe and South East Asia and said it does not make economic sense to import tea many thousands of miles.
But last night union bosses said the North Shields factory was “very productive” and accused company management of putting profit before job security.
Usdaw union representative Jayne Shotton said the company was opening a new factory in Poland which would take jobs from Tyneside.
Ms Shotton said: “Our jobs are going to Poland and China, that’s what we know.
“It is extremely disappointing that a company which proudly calls itself Twinings of London is now moving work to Poland.
“We will be taking steps to try and fight this, because this is a very productive workforce that does not deserve to be pushed aside.”
With no factory yet built for the company in Poland bosses may yet benefit from various European grant schemes.
North Tyneside MP Stephen Byers has lent his support to early efforts to prevent the job losses.
He said: “The proposed closure of this plant must be resisted. We simply cannot afford to lose this number of jobs.
“I have already spoken to the trade unions representing the workers at the factory and we shall jointly be seeking an urgent meeting with the company to try and get them to change their minds.”
Twinings has said one third of its UK production will move abroad, with the remaining work based at the Andover site. The factory’s closer location to southern ports mean it was favoured over the North Shields site.
Head of manufacturing Peter Willetts said: “We understand that this announcement will come as a shock for our employees at North Shields who could not have done more for our business.
“This is a very difficult but necessary step which will allow Twinings to remain competitive in our markets worldwide and take full advantage of future growth opportunities.
“Whilst we have had some overseas manufacturing for decades, the majority of our tea is imported and packaged here in the UK prior to being re-exported; and this is not efficient.
“As two-thirds of our sales are overseas, we need to locate our manufacturing operations in cost effective locations, closer to markets.
“If the proposal is to go ahead every effort will be made to support North Shields employees including a retraining programme, outplacement support, opportunities for other roles within the group, and enhanced redundancy packages.”
The company insisted its UK tea sales would still be based on tea packaged in Andover.