UNION bosses are set to ballot staff at Crown Paints over potential strike action.

The GMB said 70 employees had been “sold down the river” after bosses at the Darwen-based firm announced to warehouse staff that from February their contracts would be transferred over to CEVA logistics, a third party operator. However staff would remain at the Hollins Road plant

GMB confirmed members will be balloted from next week on whether to take industrial action in the New Year.

Crown, which employs nearly 1,000 employees across the group, have said the changes are part of a “wider review of operational efficiencies across the business” and that the terms and conditions of employment for all those involved in the transfer will remain the same. They also said they were engaging in a thorough consultation period with staff.

The union says its members are angry at lack of any prior consultation with GMB and claim it was blind sided by the announcement.

It is understood the announcement was made last Friday after the company, which dates back to 1777, rewarded many employees with long service awards.

Sandra Blight, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s disgraceful the way these hardworking employees have been disregarded by Crown.

“Many have worked for the company most of their working lives, and just last week were presented with long service awards recognising their tremendous contribution. All the while behind closed doors Crown were selling them down the river.

“We weren’t even given an opportunity to help identify savings, and from our understanding this was a relatively small amount of money which we think could have easily been found.

“We have no choice right now but to ballot our members for Industrial action.”

Michael Stevens, head of logistics at Crown Paints, said: “As part of a wider review of operational efficiencies across the business, we made the strategic decision to transfer the operation of our Darwen Distribution Centre to third party logistics specialist, CEVA Logistics.

“CEVA Logistics has been a partner of Crown Paints for over 10 years, and has successfully operated our distribution centre in Hull for the past six years.

“We value each and every member of our team and we are extremely grateful for the contribution that the staff in Darwen make to the business. Our number one priority throughout this process is to safeguard jobs and provide a high level of support to all affected individuals.

“The terms and conditions of employment for all those involved in the transfer will remain the same. We are also currently undergoing a thorough consultation period with staff and the relevant unions to ensure complete transparency and a smooth transition.”

According to its latest accounts Crown, which is one of Darwen’s major employers, profits were slightly up in the 12-month period running to December 2018. Management had said the outlook for 2019 was one of modest growth.

Darwen East Councillor Roy Davies said he was concerned by what he was hearing and encouraged both sides to do all they could to avoid industrial action.

He said: "Going on strike is a last resort. They have got to exhaust all other avenues to come to an agreement before then."

Darwen and Rossendale MP Jake Berry, who is Northern Powerhouse Minister, declined to comment at this stage.