WIGAN’S biggest firm has told its workers it wants a shock shutdown at Easter.
Heinz hopes to turn off the production lines for four days because of over-capacity in an unprecedented move for the giant Kitt Green plant.
Stunned staff are being told that they must take the time off as part of their annual holiday entitlement.
Members of the majority Unite union will stage a mass meeting at Goose Green Social Club next weekend to debate the announcement and decide whether to support or oppose the move.
In a communique seen by the Wigan Evening Post, Heinz say that as well as easing a glut of products in its warehouses, the move will also save Europe’s largest tinned foods plant more than £250,000 in utility bills and help off-set a 20 per cent increase in the cost of tin plate and cardboard tray packaging.
The closure will also help protect the competitive rates of pay at Kitt Green, which makes up more than half of the factory’s total cost, says the firm.
Bosses say that they have chosen April because, with the bank holiday, it is already a four-day week and co-incides with their lowest sales period. Production will re-start on Monday, April 16.
One angry worker said today: “Heinz workers are all are going mad about this. We have been told to save holidays or take the shutdown without pay if we have to.”
Heinz say that ideally they would have liked to have given staff longer notice of their plans - but say that the economic climate is so volatile that they couldn’t make the commitment any earlier.
In a letter to workers, Heinz says: “We’ve always been a seasonal business with high soup sale in the winter and much reduced sales in the summer.
“Although baked beans and pasta are not so dependent upon the weather, demand does vary across the year depending on how much promotional activity is going on in supermarkets - particularly as multipack products make up such a large proportion of our total sales.
“Holding excess product in stock is extremely expensive and inefficient. When we get to April and May demand falls away quite sharply. We understand that this shutdown will not suit everyone and we hope that you will support the business to get through this period.”
There was no-one available to comment about the scheme from the Heinz Unite branch.
A spokesman for Heinz said: “A four-day production break is planned for the Heinz Kitt Green site during next year’s Easter holiday period. The plans which involve management, staff and shopfloor workers, have been discussed with Union representatives and were shared with employees prior to Christmas. The four days would be taken as holiday.
“As the soups season ends in April and May we have usually reduced the number of lines we run but doing this is very expensive as we still have to generate steam, hot water, use lighting and so on for a factory running only half of its lines.
“Holding excess product in stock outside of the soup season also is extremely expensive and inefficient. The best way to minimise these costs and build our competitiveness is to plan a short production break at the Easter holiday period.”