Pandemic response puts site closure talks on back burner

Unilever Warrington

Increased demand for cleansing products has put talks on the closure of Unilever’s Warrington factory on the back burner.

On March 10, the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate announced that it intended to close the Bank Quay site, which makes Persil and Surf washing powders, after a strategic review.

The Crosfield plant, which opened more than 130 years ago and employs 123 staff, was earmarked for closure before the end of this year, although no firm date had been announced.

However, a rise in demand for cleansing products due to the current coronavirus pandemic has seen growth in the sector surge and the group is focusing on helping communities protect themselves against infection through the use of its products.

As part of the fight against coronavirus, the Warrington plant has recently taken on 15 agency staff to help cover the additional cleaning and safety requirements there.

A Unilever spokesperson said: “Our Unilever factories in the UK, including our Warrington site, have a vitally important role to play at the moment in continuing to provide everyday essential products to customers and communities during this time of significant need.”

However, Unilever stressed that the site will, at some point, still close, although talks with the relevant union officials have been put on hold due to the more pressing COVID-19 response.

The spokesperson said: “During this increasingly challenging period, our leadership team at Warrington has agreed, with the trade union and employee consultation group, that the focus now should be on the immediate priorities of employee wellbeing and business continuity.

“We will continue to talk regularly to the consultation group and seek to identify an appropriate point at which to consult on the proposals – we have recently brought in some additional agency workers to help us with the enhanced cleaning and safety measures we have introduced at the factory.”

Unilever said it is doing its bit, as the world’s biggest soap company, to help the world tackle the pandemic.

On March 24 the group announced a support programme worth €150m, including donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food, and business support for its customers and supply chain.

Chief executive Alan Jope said: “As the world’s biggest soap company, we have a responsibility to help. We have a social, medical and moral obligation to make soap more readily available worldwide.”