Food processing workers across Britain and Northern Ireland were left shell-shocked today after employer Vion said it was abandoning its 13,000-strong workforce.
The Dutch food group had already moved to close its Hall's of Broxburn plant in West Lothian despite two bids to take over the site.
Vion said neither offer represented a "viable and sustainable alternative," instead laying off the plant's 1,700 workers come February.
Now the company is planning to offload its entire portfolio in Britain and Northern Ireland, instead focusing on its "core" food markets in the Netherlands and Germany.
Vion's subsidiaries - including Key Country Foods, Tranfield and Grampian Country Food Group - employ 13,000 people at 38 UK sites.
The company insisted it had started "detailed discussions" around a sell-off and was confident buyers would be found.
Chairman Peter Barr said: "The sale process will be completed in a smooth and orderly fashion to ensure business continuity for our employees, agricultural and other suppliers, and our customers."
But the Usdaw union - which represents some Vion meat workers - said the decision had "come right out of the blue."
National officer John Gorle said: "There will undoubtedly be questions raised about the future viability of Vion's UK food businesses, but Usdaw is firmly of the view that these can be secured with the right management, investment and strategic approach in place."
Yet Vion has still not explained its decision to shut down Hall's of Broxburn, he said.
"Today's announcement clearly hasn't been made overnight and it makes the veracity of the consultation process at Hall's questionable at best."
Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney also said today's announcement was the first he'd heard of the closures.
"The Scottish government has been involved in protracted dialogue with Vion over the last few months where we have repeatedly asked for reassurance on future of other plants in Scotland.
"This information has not been forthcoming," he said.
Unite - which also represents Vion workers - called on management to sit down with the unions and talk about its plans for the future.
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