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Sugar giant Tate & Lyle has launched a 90-day consultation that could see the introduction of a five-day working week for the first time in its history.

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It could also lead to the loss of 30 jobs. The consultation follows 12 months in which the Silvertown refinery has been operating at 60 per cent efficiency due to the effects European Commission tariffs on importing sugar cane.

It meant that the refinery only had enough raw materials to operate 240 days out of the year. For the remaining 124 days there was nothing for the staff to do. The refinery, which employs a total of 850 people, works 24 hours a day, seven days a week and only closes for Christmas Day.

Now the company is consulting its workforce over the introduction of a five-day working week.

Ian Bacon, President of Tate and Lyle Sugars, said: “This is a sad day for us, and is in no part the fault of our skilled and dedicated workforce. It is entirely due to the constraints on our raw material supply created by the European Commission.

“For over a year our refinery has been running at 60 per cent because the Commission is failing to allow cane refiners fair access to raw material. We are taking steps to address this directly with the Commission but in the meantime must look to align our production workforce to the reduced volume of raw material.

“We remain highly concerned that the Commission is not taking steps to remove the artificial constraints on our raw material supply and to create a fair market in Europe.”

Syed Kamall, Conservative MEP for London: “This London company should be allowed to import as much sugar cane as it needs.”

East Ham MP Stephen Timms said: “I am very disappointed that the company has found it necessary to look at redundancies and it is particularly worrying that this problem has arisen because the Commission has not fulfilled the forecast which it set out some years ago. “

He said he would press the Government to find out what it could do to help but was not sure if any possible intervention would be timely enough to avoid redundancies.

West Ham MP Lyn Brown, whose mother worked for Tate & Lyle, said: “The problems Tate and Lyle face are only solvable at a European Commission level. This Government must stand up for businesses in Europe and the wider international community.’

“I will be meeting with the Government Minister responsible to make sure he understands just how important this factory is for Newham.

“I will ask him what he will do to protect our jobs and support businesses in this tough economic climate.

“Mum worked in Tate’s for many years, and I am concerned to read about the proposals to reduce the workforce. It has been a good local employer for many families in Newham.

“The proposed job losses will be a tragedy for the individual and their families.”

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