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263 TEA JOBS SET FOR AXE; TWININGS PRODUCTION TO MOVE ABROAD.

Byline: AMY HUNT

HUNDREDS of jobs look set to leave Tyneside for Poland and China.

Tea-maker Twinings, which employs 263 staff in North Shields, plans to move business to Eastern Europe and South East Asia.

All the workers on Tyneside, who repackage tea for sale abroad, have been told their jobs are at risk.

They were called to a meeting yesterday in Gosforth to be told that Twinings could potentially close the entire site by September 2011, with just a handful of jobs kept at a factory in Andover, Hampshire.

The firm, which has manufactured tea for over 300 years, is expecting its markets in those parts of the world to grow and says it does not make economic sense to import tea many thousands of miles.

But union bosses say the North Shields factory is "very productive" and have accused company management of putting profits before employees' livelihoods.

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."

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.

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HISTORIC: Twinings has been making tea since 1706
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2009
Words:510
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