On 21st July, the Civil Court of Marseille (Tribunal de grande instance) accepted the social plan proposed by Unilever to close its subsidiary Fralib (182 employees) in Gémenos. The date of the closure - expected for the end of July - will be known in a few weeks. It will be the end of one of the major industrial relation disputes of 2011.
Unilever announced the closure in September 2010 of the plant that produced tea bags under the brands Lipton and Elephant, citing as the reason a lack of competitiveness. The information and consultation process started on October 21st, and at its third meeting in January 2011 the Works Council refused to give its advice and instead asked for more information. Since then, the Work Council and unions have fought against the management through the court, and have attempted to gain the support of politicians and leaders of the main unions.
An initial decision of the Civil Court of Marseilles revoked the social plan and requested that the management commenced the information and consultation process from the beginning. The Works Council nominated an expert to check the validity of the economic reasons for the closure and to propose an alternative. But finally, after almost a year of this process and industrial disputes, the plant will be closed and 182 employees will loose their job, although 50 workers may secure employment by accepting new jobs elsehwere in the Unilever group.
Update 24-04-2014:The Civil Court of Marseilles agreed the third version of the social plan. Unions are planning to go to the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence (who canceled the second social plan, agreed by the Civil Court). Unions continue to propose, with the support of some local authorities, an alternative plan to take over the plant.
Update 28-05-2014: after 1336 days of negotiations, Unilever has concluded an agreement with the remaining 76 employees of Fralib to help them to take over the activities at the plant through a cooperative agreement. Unilever offered the plant €1.5 million as working capital, €500,000 for investments, €250,000 for a new production line, various financial supports and €100,000 for each of the 76 employees as indemnity. The cost of the take over for Unilever will reach €20 million.