Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Cadbury workers lobby for sweet future

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News, Westminster

Deborah Matthews-Booth
More than 100 workers came to London to lobby ministers

It was an inauspicious start for the Cadbury employees who descended on Westminster.

Two of their coaches from Birmingham had been cancelled by a mystery caller on Monday night but it did not dampen their passion. When they arrived in the capital, they were loud and proud.

Although the Cadbury shareholders had not yet signed off the £11.5bn offer from the US conglomerate Kraft, everyone knew it was a done deal.

More than 100 employees gathered outside the Houses of Parliament, waving their placards in the rain and shouting "Keep Cadbury British".

The majority of the demonstrators work at the Bournville factory in Birmingham, where chocolate has been made since 1879, and they had come to ask the government to seek job guarantees from Kraft.

Essentially, they do not know what will happen under Kraft - indeed many jobs have already been lost to overseas factories under Cadbury.

Phil Evans summed it up: "It might not be doom and gloom, but we want to know it's not going to be doom and gloom."

'Predatory company'

The 53-year-old, from Kings Heath, is an archetypal Cadbury employee. He has worked there a long time - 29 years - and it is a family thing. His mother and father used to work in Bournville and his brother is also on the payroll.

"We just want a few safeguards," he said. "What are they going to do? Kraft has not said anything up until now. The unions have said it is a predatory company."

John Peckham
We just feel we have been sold out. We are a good profitable company
John Peckham

He said Kraft had a track record of closing factories down, citing the Terry's plant in York as the prime example, and he is unsure how else the company can reduce its estimated £22bn debt.

"People keep saying they will split us up and they are only after our chewing gum market," he added. "But the Kraft chairman Irene Rosenfeld has come out with some positive things."

Deborah Matthews-Booth stood out because she wore her company uniform. The 54-year-old makes the Roses and Heroes brands, and she has been at Bournville for 33 years.

She used to work in the Milk Tray department but production of that favourite has already moved to Poland.

"From the office staff down to the cleaners, everybody is very upset," she said. "Cadburys was a firm we were proud to work for. It was an honour."

She is utterly convinced jobs will go and wants the government to stick by them and "write down in stone" that there will be jobs at Bournville now and for years to come.

Although job security is the workers' main priority, there is also a real sense of loss that the company has lost its independence. There is a real nostalgia for the name, its Quaker heritage and what it stands for - particularly in the West Midlands.

'Sold out'

Rita Acharya, from Solihull, said Cadbury was the "best firm" to work for and the Bournville factory was her "second home". She praised the company's "social responsibilities" and work with local charities.

The 49-year-old shares many of her colleagues' fears for the future: "Unemployment is terrible at the moment. What are our children going to do?"

Dayle Kirby dressed as the Cadbury gorilla outside the Houses of Parliament on 2 February 2010
A family thing: The son of a worker came dressed as the gorilla from a Cadbury advert

In addition to the uncertainty and sadness, there is also bitterness that a profitable company has been sold off by the board of directors and the major institutional shareholders, or the "people in red braces" as they were referred to.

John Peckham is an engineer and union convenor at Bournville.

"We just feel we have been sold out. We are a good profitable company," said the 52-year-old. "It is simply down to greed and getting the best price."

He is one of the workers who can see the bigger picture. For many, the Cadbury saga is emblematic of bigger problems - from hostile takeovers of British companies to the general demise in manufacturing.

There was also much debate when the workers met MPs in the House of Commons over the role of the taxpayer-funded RBS in helping Kraft bankroll the takeover.

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of Unite, said other European countries had powers to influence the takeover process.

"This must never happen again - the law must change to prevent hostile takeovers of successful British companies," he said. "We need a Cadbury law."

But the deal is indeed done and for the vast majority of Cadbury's 4,500 workforce, they are simply hoping that Kraft - with a little push from the UK government - will keep them in work and keep their future sweet.

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