Barbour faces ‘damaging’ Christmas strike

Barbour,  Simonside Industrial Estate
Barbour, Simonside Industrial Estate

ONE of South Tyneside’s longest-established firms is facing a “damaging” festive strike by workers.

Warehouse staff at the iconic clothing firm, J Barbour & Sons, based at Monks Way, on the Bede Trading Estate in Jarrow, are due to walk out tomorrow until Tuesday in a dispute over new working hours.

As the company is due to close down from Christmas Eve, the striking staff will not return to work until Monday, December 29.

The dispute centres on the firm’s warehouses in Wardley, Gateshead, and involves 134 of its 600 North East workers.

In a letter sent to employees a company spokeswoman warned that “this situation is very damaging for the company”.

Workers who are members of the Unite trade union will be out in force at the warehouses from tomorrow in support of action against changes to shift patterns, incorporating later working until 10.30pm, which staff claim is not “family friendly”.

A source for the strikers said: “The company is trying to change contracts to include working until 10.30pm. They promote themselves as family-friendly but this change will mean that working parents will be saying goodbye to their children one morning and not seeing them until the following morning.

“A lot of employees don’t have their own transport and will have no way of getting home that late at night. The employees have also received a letter this week stating that they are damaging the business by their actions.”

The two warehouses will be manned by non-trade union workers over the course of the dispute with the company pledging to “minimise any disruption”.

Brenda Readman-Bell, Barbour’s group finance and IT director, said: “We are very disappointed that we have not been able to reach agreement with the union representing our employees in Follingsby Park over the introduction of the new shift patterns in April 2015.

“Barbour is a North East success story – a global premium lifestyle brand sold in over 40 countries worldwide. Our business has grown significantly and in a very competitive retail market place, service and on time deliveries to our customers are of paramount importance. The introduction of shift patterns will enable us to extend the warehouse working hours in order to satisfy customer demand and to continue to deliver the high standard and quality of service that Barbour is renowned for.

“We have been in consultation with the union since May 2014 and we feel we have done everything possible to work with the union and our employees to alleviate their concerns. The introduction of new shift patterns includes a substantial pay increase and standard working hours on a Monday to Friday basis.

“We are sorry that union members have decided to take this action but would like to assure all our customers that plans are already in place to minimise any disruption to the business.”

The proposed new warehouse working hour patterns are 7am to 3pm and 2.30pm to 10.30pm.

Barbour has been a successful family-run company for 120 years and its famous wax jackets are a favourite with showbusiness stars and the British Royal Family.

The threat of strike action has been a rarity for Barbour.

But back in November, 2007, industrial action was narrowly averted after machinists accepted an improved 4.1 per cent pay increase.

Only last year, business secretary Vince Cable, on a visit to Barbour, announced the creation of 136 new jobs there – courtesy of a £549,000 from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.

No one from the Unite, of which the majority of warehouse staff belong, was available for comment.