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Jobs bombshell at food factory.

Byline: Karen Mclauchlan

Workers at a Teesside food factory have been devastated by news that 320 jobs are to be axed at the site.

Unions have described the move by Kerry Foods to cut jobs at its Hartlepool site as "heartbreaking news" for staff.

Kerry Foods saved hundreds of jobs at the factory, which makes chilled ready meals, back in 2003 after it bought the site from Hibernia Foods - which went into administration.

But despite investing millions of pounds upgrading the factory, the Ireland-based company said a slump in the ready meals sector had forced it to "downsize significantly".

However, bosses insisted the site was not being closed.

"We are keeping 30 staff on at Hartlepool and hope to increase numbers when the market improves," said Frank Hayes, director of corporate affairs.

He added: "The ready meals market has been growing at significant rates in recent years, and was planned to grow in the future. But we've seen a significant downward trend in the market.

"Regrettably we have no option but to scale back production."

He said workers were being offered redeployment opportunities to Kerry's other sites, which include a base in Durham.

The 320 workers will leave the site between now and May.

Alan Milne, regional officer for the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, said: "This announcement has come completely out of the blue.

"The company has invested millions of pounds in the factory and has an excellent workforce - something the company has acknowledged.

"We will be doing everything we can to preserve as many jobs as possible.

"And we understand about 50 jobs could be redeployed to Durham."

The union said it was holding regular meetings with the company.

"Staff at this factory have really suffered in the last few years," Mr Milne added. "First we had the news Hibernia Foods had gone into administration - and now the announcement from Kerry Foods. It's very sad news."

Staff remaining at the plant are working on producing long-life chilled products.

"We are hoping this market grows and puts us in a position where we can resume full scale production," added Mr Hayes.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business Local
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Mar 9, 2006
Words:353
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