The InfoJobs for Venta de Baños (Palencia, 6,300 inhabitants) is summarized in a few pages posted in the civic center. There, in view of the town, disparate jobs are offered: from a machinist to a mechanic or a butcher in Palencia. For the more adventurous, as a window cleaner in the Netherlands. Gone is the bonanza that the Siro biscuit factory brought, which sweetened breakfasts and payroll until everything began to go wrong. Now they send the bitterness and the expectation. The Siro factories in Castilla y León have been stopped until it is resolved if the investment group that aspires to buy the group takes the step. The conditions that he has raised are not liked, but the alternative is the closure, which would cause the loss of 700 jobs in Venta de Baños and 3,000 more in the community. A catastrophe in a land severely affected by deindustrialization.
The Siro works council in the town has not received good news for weeks. The long faces of several members of the committee, led by the UGT union, and the tone with which they speak while explaining their situation confirm this. Last October some meetings began with the company to negotiate a competitiveness plan necessary for the maintenance of the entity, but the conditions were not suitable. It took months to have news and these came in the form of euphemisms, according to Mónica de la Sierra: “On May 30 we were informed of the transfer of the productive activity, not the closure as such, and the displacement of the workforce.” This implies that 197 people would have to move, in worse conditions, to the other Siro plants in the territory: Aguilar de Campóo (Palencia) or Toro (Zamora), in both cases more than 100 kilometers from the site. About 30 office workers, directly, “were invited to leave with a voluntary leave.”
The company’s statements have also bothered for accusing the workforce of much higher absenteeism than the rest of the factories and of higher labor costs, something that the president of the committee, Mar Rodríguez, has rejected, assuring that the estimates are manipulated: “We thought that this strategy was an ordago from Siro but now we see that it is an ordago from the investors”. This Monday the employees have gone normally to the large facilities located on the outskirts of the town, even knowing that production was paralyzed, and there they have simply dedicated themselves to cleaning, getting the morning off and checking the spirits of the team, according to María Garrote. , from UGT: “There were people crying, worried, we are in shock”. The warehouses, on the other hand, are still operational and there are trucks taking out products. Opposite, a workshop operator looks, seriously, at the future of those people with worse job luck than his: “It’s very sad, they are removing jobs where there are already few.” At the moment, those affected are still waiting for messages from the company, whose manager, Luis Ángel López, warned that “the investor is not willing to proceed with the closing of the operation in the terms provided in the agreement” in the face of this controversy. Thus, “we decided to stop the productive activity and manage the box with the stock of finished product that we have”.
The nervousness is noticeable in the surroundings of these venues, with people who avoid speaking out and a certain boredom in the outside store, which sells those egg macaroni, chocolate cereals, cookies or assorted pastries that are made a few meters behind. “People come asking as if we knew something,” the vendor explains to the clientele, who well knows the topic of conversation that she terrifies in the region. Palencia has one of its great economic engines in the cereal sector, with important companies in the north and south of the province. In the vicinity of Venta de Baños there is a Renault factory, in Villamuriel de Cerrato, whose activity is key to sustaining the area.
The mayor: “We do not conceive the town without a cookie maker”
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The mayor of Ventabañense, José María López (PSOE), appreciates the involvement of the community, with municipal representatives and the population that this weekend have come to demonstrate in the square where a sign hangs that says “The town of Venta de Baños supports the workers of the Siro Group”. The councilor assumes that he barely has the capacity to influence and that “it depends on the investor” and on how the competitiveness plans are negotiated. For Siro, who has been on those lands for half a century, to stop operating would be a catastrophe: “We cannot conceive of the town without the biscuit maker.”
Pessimism is glimpsed among the union members, since Miguel Ángel Calzada, Elisa Limones and Yolanda Maza agree with the opinions of the committee representatives. “Come on, let’s go to the street,” muses Limones, who defines Siro’s offer as “lentils”: “Either you take it or leave it.” De la Sierra criticizes that the Junta de Castilla y León, which has recently called for an understanding to maintain jobs in Palencia, has taken a long time to react and that in the early stages of the confrontation it did not respond to attempts to meet with the spokespersons of the Siro template. This Wednesday the president of Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco (PP), has summoned in the Cortes, in Valladolid, the councilors of the municipalities where the operation of Siro has been stopped. The trade unionists also complain that since the conflict began they have begun to collect monthly payments late and have bad omens for June’s salary: “This month we can’t even smell it.”
Siro’s president: “It’s not in my hands”
The brand’s management has urged that “reality should prevail over emotion”, but neither the realities nor the emotions of Venta de Baños augur well. It so happens that the president of the Siro Group since 1991, Juan Manuel González Serna, also vice president of Iberdrola, was named the place’s favorite son. There he is recognized for his contribution to the expansion of the firm, since he bought Siro from Danone and multiplied its activity, its workforce and its impact in the agri-food sector. Today the businessman, to whom the committees have turned begging for help, has limited himself to referring the new investors and answering with a sober “it’s not in my hands”.
The cataclysm derived from the closure of Siro would damage some lands, Mónica de la Sierra admits, where there is neither a present nor a future: “Then we talk about the emptied Spain but this is a detriment for those of us who are here and for those who are coming.” The bars near the Venta de Baños industrial park and the businesses that live indirectly from such a volume of employment tremble before the worst possible outcome. Regret is intermingled with unease when asking about the town what a tomorrow without Siro looks like. Then that very Castilian resignation appears in the face of events that ordinary people accept that they cannot control. María Ángeles Vadillo, who at 80 years old has seen the rise and fall of this area of the Cerrato of Palencia, rests on a bench next to the town hall. There she, in the shade, sums up bluntly and with crystalline sincerity that tense wait that crushes spirits: “If they close, they leave us without eating and that’s it. And what are we going to do, son?
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