HOPES are fading of saving one of the most famous northern names in bread-making.
High street retail giant Morrisons shocked more than 160 staff at its Rathbones of Wigan plant in Newtown in the spring because there is no room for it to expand as demand for products surges.
The supermarket firm is to invest in its Wakefield bakery site instead while offering its Wigan workers the chance to relocate to new jobs across the Pennines.
Rumours swept the town today that because redundancy talks have proceeded more quickly than expected, the plant would now close early, at the end of November, rather than spring/summer 2013, as originally expected.
But although bosses and the bakers’ union both denied this today, neither was able to offer any hope that there had been a re-think for the controversial plans over all.
Morrisons’ offer for staff to transfer across to the sister Rathbones bakery in West Yorkshire has been attacked as “wholly unrealistic” by Wigan Council cabinet member Coun Chris Ready, who was shop steward at the bakery for a decade.
He said: “When I was at Rathbone’s I remember being sent on a trip to that bakery in Wakefield to look at their set up and you are talking about an hour and a half trip and that is with a good run.
“So you could easily be talking about expecting a man living on Norley estate to undertake a two-hour journey each way for a job that pays a pittance of a wage a little over the minimum wage.”
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has held talks with bosses to explore alternatives to closure and relocation packages for staff.
She said: “The closure of Rathbones will be extremely disappointing news for the employees and for the town after so many years of baking tradition. My immediate priority is to ensure Rathbone’s dedicated and valuable staff receive a fair settlement.
“I met with the owners as soon as the decision was announced and I was encouraged by their assurances that employees would be redeployed within the group or assisted in finding alternative employment.”
Wigan organising regional secretary of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union, Geoff Atkinson, said; “As people will understand, there will always be rumours as to when a site will shut, but as far as the union are concerned there no plans to close this year and we will continue to work with the company to get the best outcome possible for those affected by the closure at the Rathbones site.”
A Morrisons spokesman deniedthe company would now close the Rathbones site in two months’ time.
He said: “When we announced in May that we were planning to close the Wigan Rathbones site we said the potential closure would happen in 2013. We are still on track for this but can’t give an exact date at this stage.”
Although he confirmed that some staff had agreed to relocate to other Morrisons’ bakery operations, he declined to say how many, if any, had taken up the company’s offer to move to Wakefield.
He said: “We are pleased to say that we have been successful in finding other roles within the company for some of our colleagues at the site.” He added that Morrisons’ would continue to work hard in finding alternative positions for those affected by the closure.