Friday is a sad and uncertain day for staff at one of Aylesbury’s biggest employers – and no doubt hundreds more family members across the Vale.
A total of 120 people have had their contracts terminated by Cinram, after the multimedia distribution firm lost a key contract with Universal Pictures. The contract has been won by a rival company.
Now those workers losing their jobs face more uncertainty. Staff had originally believed they would be offered a TUPE transfer agreement and would be able to move to a plant belonging to the rival company. But now they have been told by Cinram that this may not be the case, even though those losing their jobs believed they would be able to start work again on Monday.
If the transfer does not go ahead, it means the workers may have to go to an industrial tribunal with support from unions before the issue was resolved.
It is understood that Cinram says it has already transferred the contracts to Sony DADC under the TUPE law which is designed to protect workers. A transfer would also mean that Cinram is not liable to pay redundancy to workers, some of who have served at the site since it was the CBS Records vinyl plant 40 years ago.
And a source told this paper that had Cinram – which is currently up for sale – had to make the workers redundant, the company may have gone in to liquidation, meaning that the 100 remaining staff would also lose their jobs and local sub contractors which serve the site would also lose work.
Sony DADC says that the transfer negotiations are still underway.
In 2012 Cinram – which distributes DVDs, CDs and other entertainment items to retailers and individuals – was bought by a private investor in the US, who earlier this year decided to sell it on to another US-based investment firm. Cinram, and the services it provides, is currently up for sale.
At one time the site was run by Sony, which converted the vinyl pressing operation into a distribution centre in 1999 to form The Entertainment Network with Warner Music.
Sony leased the site from Aylesbury Vale District Council (via subsidiary Aylesbury Vale Estates) on a long lease, and when in 2004 Cinram acquired The Entertainment Network – Sony sub-let the site to Cinram for close to £1million a year.
But, it is understood, in January this year Sony signalled to Aylesbury Vale Estates that it wanted out of the contract, giving Cinram six months to find a new home.
Negotiations began but stalled between Cinram and Aylesbury Vale Estates over the future of the site – and some insiders believe that this uncertainty has contributed to Universal taking their business to a subsidiary to Sony, Sony DADC.
The insider, who this newspaper has agreed not to name, said: “It’s an irony that the work is going to Sony DADC, but what is the real stab in the back for the workforce is that this site is organised around that Universal contract, groups of workers are specifically operating to Universal working methods and processes.”
Philip Ingman, designated member for Aylesbury Vale Estates LLP, explained this week that a deal on the future of the site without Sony is now approaching completion – but that in five years’ time the possibility of the council reclaiming the land to use as housing is also on the table – and Cinram will have to move elsewhere. The site still has contracts to process – but the Universal deal accounted for two thirds of its output.
Mr Ingman explained further: “I can categorically state that the current position Cinram find themselves in has
not been instigated by Aylesbury Vale Estates or AVDC and has solely come about by the actions of Sony working with or without the input of Cinram.”
He added: “Discussions went completely cold until late in November 2016 when Cinram presented us with a rather ‘take it or leave it’ proposal.
“Namely AVE were to take a surrender of the Sony lease and simultaneously re-let to Cinram on a new lease.
“They wanted a 10-year lease with a five-year break, six months free rent and for AVE to take on responsibility for the structure of the building whilst Cinram would only have responsibility for the interior. For this they would pay a substantially reduced rent of £600,000 per annum, but also needed a capital
contribution to refit some offices so they may re-let them to external third parties and reduce their rent burden further.”
Since those discussions Cinram and Aylesbury Vale Estates has agreed on terms for a new lease which is currently in the process of going through – this will provide some comfort for the remaining staff at Rabans Lane.
And Jim Brooks, executive vice president and managing director of the European arm of Cinram, who works from the Aylesbury site, expressed his devastation at the entire situation, and how it was affecting the workforce.
On Friday Mr Brooks said he would gather the whole workforce together for a final farewell to those who are leaving.
He said he believe the employees had been let down by the Universal Picture’s decision not to renew the contract and said his staff had been lauded for providing “the best service in the industry.
“This is a family and more than a family – it’s a way of life working here. We come here and we support each other, not just in work but through life’s challenges and we all look after each other.
“We have always looked to be the best in the industry and the best that we can be. We have won awards galore.”
A spokesman for Sony DADC, said: "Sony DADC UK is continuing to make best efforts to find a fair and reasonable solution for any employee concerned. We do not agree with the details that have been made public and are surprised that this has happened as negotiations are ongoing. We are actively working to reach an agreement soon.