The Cerealto Siro Foods group, owner of the Siro biscuit brand, has proposed the closure of its factory in Venta de Baños (Palencia, 6,300 inhabitants) due to an “unaffordable lack of competitiveness for the company”. The decision means that the 197 workers affected by the cessation of production at this plant, an emblem for the Palencia cereal industry, can be relocated to other plants in Castilla y León or accept the conditions of the dismissals agreed between the company committee and the entity. The objective is that the transfer be carried out “progressively” in two years while the unions struggle to obtain the best conditions for the employees of a local brand that has been in the town for about 50 years.
The company supports its decision in the negotiation of a plan to improve competitiveness, an agreement that according to a statement from Siro’s management is “imperative” to “ensure the entry of investment partners”. The company has disclosed that this competitiveness plan, which it uses to defend the closure of the plant, is an unavoidable condition to attract new investment and that otherwise “it will imply the immediate withdrawal of the offer”. The interested parties are the US entities Afendis and Davidson Kempner.
The firm has a debt of about 300 million euros, according to sources familiar with the process, and has stated in the statement released this week that the measure, which it describes as “very difficult”, is due to the fact that the Venta de Baños facilities carry a salary cost 29% higher than the average of the other factories, in addition to the fact that absenteeism amounts to 18.2%, well above the average 6% of the community. “Reality must prevail over emotion”, justifies the direction of the brand, which is chaired by Juan Manuel González Serna since he acquired it in 1991 from the French Danone. González Serna is also Vice President of Iberdrola and adopted son of Venta de Baños.
Siro is one of the big names in the agri-food industry in Castilla y León, where it generates some 1,200 jobs at all its locations. The arguments collide with the position of the company committee, whose president, Mar Rodríguez, from the UGT union, denies the company’s data: “They can say what they want, but it is a lie.” The alleged extra cost, he continues, is not such and is similar to the numbers of the Toro (Zamora) and Aguilar de Campóo (Palencia) plants, according to the union representative, who says he has “no idea” of the accounts he has made Siro to pronounce like that. In addition, she clarifies that absenteeism has been calculated taking into account all absences, including those justified for medical or family reasons.
The news has generated unease in the town and its surroundings, which historically have had an important source of economic activity in this group. The mayor of Venta de Baños, José Manuel López (PSOE), regrets the probable closure of the plant: “The evaluation could not be more discouraging and there is little hope of solving the problem, which for both the workers and the region would be a sledgehammer”.
The head of the Treasury of the regional PSOE, Rosa Rubio, has urged the Board (governed by a coalition of PP and Vox) to “throw the rest” to avoid layoffs. The Minister of Economy, Carlos Fernández Carriedo, has advocated an “agreement” that does not harm the workforce. At the moment, Mar Rodríguez flatly explains, the meeting held last Tuesday with the company’s representatives went “badly” because “they had no intention of negotiating anything.” The term that Siro manages goes through a closure in a maximum of three months, a blow to a region badly damaged by depopulation and scarce in industrial employment.
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