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Zumosol squeezes its Palma del Río factory | Economy

Several of the workers who have been locked up in the Zumosol factory since last December 20.
Several of the workers who have been locked up in the Zumosol factory since last December 20.PACO PUENTES (THE COUNTRY)

The juicer factory that Zumosol has in Palma del Río (Córdoba) would be a ghost plant were it not for the constant surveillance that its 38 workers have mounted in the parking lot. Stationed in tents —now cooling off as best they can from over 30 degrees; previously frozen and heated with candles—, they have been lying in wait for 159 days to prevent the company from selling the machinery. “If not, I would have done it already”, as Fernando Trujillo, president of the works council, denounces. The industrial dismantling of the brand, dependent on a Turkish investment fund, has left them in a legal limbo without work and now threatens the continuity of another 60 employees of an adjoining bottling facility, whose workload was also linked to that It was a reputable firm back in the nineties.

The immense facilities that Zumos Palma SL —the company behind which Zumosol’s trade name is hidden— are far from the golden years of activity that it had after it was built in the 2000s. At that time, the area of squeezing and bottling were still united under the umbrella of the Pascual Group, they were capable of squeezing 1,100 tons a day and generated 200 direct jobs in a town of 20,900 residents, “in which 50% of its active population works in agriculture”, as pointed out by its mayor, Esperanza Caro. This Tuesday, the stopped machines in both factories draw a much less rosy picture.

“Zumosol is like Attila: wherever it goes, the grass doesn’t grow,” Trujillo denounces indignantly. The 38 employees of the juicer suffer helplessly the six months they have been discharged from the company, despite not having been officially fired. “We neither work, nor have we been fired,” summarizes his union representative. The 60 of the packer, today dependent on the LGC Fruit company, began an indefinite strike on May 16 due to the lack of workload that their company claims to suffer after Zumosol moved its production to Murcia in November 2021 —despite to the fact that the address of Palma del Río still appears on its packaging—and left him a debt of three million euros. “These are two issues that have gone in parallel and everything comes from the intention of the firm to get rid of the industrial plant,” denounces Sergio Marín, president of the LGC Fruit committee.

But that was not the intention that the Turkish holding company Toksöz —dedicated mainly to pharmaceutical businesses— declared when it took over the entire plant in 2013 for around 40 million euros and promised to expand the firm’s international business. But a few years later, the numbers stopped adding up, so the investor decided to divide the squeezing and packaging areas. The first is leased in 2017 with an option to buy to a large Brazilian multinational in the sector, Citrosuco, which would end up leaving in 2020 without exercising its right of first refusal. The second was acquired by LGC Fruit in 2019, a national company linked to the bulk food business in whose hands that dismembered half of the factory continues. “Zumosol has never made a white label and that factory needs very large volumes to sustain it,” says Alberto Ribas, manager of Zumos Palma.

With the departure of Citrosuco, problems begin for the 38 workers of the juicer. While looking for a buyer, Zumos Palma decides to agree with the employees on an employment regulation file (ERTE) from September 2020 to March 2021, in which the firm even completed the loss of the monthly wage bill. That month, he again proposes a new ERTE that, a month and a half after starting to run, ends up lying down by the Superior Court of Justice of Andalusia, since he said that “it did not meet the requirements”, as Trujillo recalls. The company then chose to appeal the decision, until the end of the file in November 2021, the employees are once again assumed by the company.

A group of LCG workers, at the protest.
A group of LCG workers, at the protest.PACO PUENTES (THE COUNTRY)

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The mess becomes more convoluted then, after Zumosol announced that same month that it had found a mysterious buyer, Cegeplast, an Andalusian firm that, according to the company, was willing to pay the more than 16.6 million euros that they ask for for the sale, although with a few months of trial as a rental. Barely ten days after subrogating the workers, however, the purchasing company sent a letter alleging breaches of the contract, did not pay the first rent payment, and dismissed the workers without even dismissal or severance pay.

“We are the worst affected. It is a legal process in which they have deceived us”, argues Ribas. On the contrary, Agustín Jiménez Morante, secretary of Industry CC OO in Córdoba, sees the alleged ruse in a very different way: “A powerful investment fund is not fooled by a Sevillian company with an initial capital of 3,000 euros. We think that there has been a possible unfair dismissal and an illegal subrogation, which is an artifice between a Zumosol and Cegeplast not to take charge of the workers”. EL PAÍS has tried to contact Cegeplast, but has not received a response.

After staying the month of December without receiving anything, the employees of Zumos Palma managed to get the Employment Department of the Andalusian Government to recognize their unemployment, although it had already decreased, after having consumed a good part of the benefit in the previous ERTE. In parallel, those affected have initiated legal proceedings against Zumos Palma and Cegeplast that will put both companies on the bench in trials that have already begun to be scheduled for the month of June. Ribas abounds in his innocence, “in his commitment to the subrogation of the workers” and in ensuring that the trance they are going through now is the fault of the new buyer who, according to him, is now responsible for the factory, despite the fact that the manager is the one who He has come to the plant to show it to potential buyers, according to Jiménez’s complaint.

However, it is not the only headache that the company is causing to the workers of Palma del Río. Although the bottling area of ​​the facilities depends on LGC Fruit since 2019, the 60 employees on strike see Zumos Palma as directly responsible for their delicate situation. “When they reached the purchase agreement, the main client was Zumosol, our company alleges that it owes four million —three, according to Ribas—. In that dispute, the company stops manufacturing and we lose our main customer. They have looked for new ones, but they have not arrived”, reasons Marín. With these wickers, LGC Fruit —with whom this medium has been in contact without success— seems to follow in the footsteps of its former client, it already adds two ERTEs to its workers while looking for a buyer and has already tried a third file that the Andalusian Administration has rejected him.

Given the lack of clear business prospects and the delays in payroll payments, LGC workers have started an indefinite strike that they don’t even know how it will end. For now, the company has not even attended the convened negotiating tables. Marín regrets the reality of him and his colleagues in the surrounding area cut up: “This was one of the largest plants in town and look now.” Meanwhile, in Palma del Río they share the disgust, while they see one of the flagships wither, which, moreover, was the only plant that squeezed and packaged all those hectares of orange trees that populate the outskirts of the town. “It is very painful to contemplate this process,” admits Mayor Caro sadly.

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