One of Scotland’s richest men has been accused of leaving a cancer victim dependent on a food bank after his fish processing plant was plunged into administration.
Father-of-two Graham MacPherson, who is battling leukemia, is among 200 workers at risk of financial ruin after the closure of aristocrat Alastair Salvesen’s Dawnfresh factory in Uddingston, Lanarkshire.
Salvesen, who had an estimated wealth of £1billion in 2015, majority controls the company and accounts show senior management has earned more than £6million since 2017 despite significant losses.
Questions have also been asked about artwork that was removed from the walls of his office before administration began. It is unclear whether this was personal or company property.
Other parts of the multinational company, which received taxpayer-funded support, continue to operate successfully and are being sold.
But Graham, 48, and his partner Mary Kirwan, 51, from Motherwell, said they won’t have enough money to eat if their fears come true the company won’t pay severance pay or will not honor vacation pay due as a result of the bankruptcy.
Graham, who was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2020, worked for the company for 14 years.
He said: “These people are completely heartless. You talk about one of the richest people in Scotland running this business, and yet this is happening to workers who have served it for decades. It’s absolutely disgusting.
“They always treated the staff terribly so I’m not particularly surprised how it ended. Most of us were on about minimum wage.
“I was diagnosed with cancer, which is now thankfully in remission, and as a result of this I was entitled to vacation pay which had accrued while I was on sick leave.
“When I asked for it in January, they told me it would be paid for with my severance pay as their factory was closing and the work was moved to Arbroath.
“But I won’t get a penny of that money from the company now because it’s under administration. The workers are completely screwed, we won’t even get severance pay unless we can get something from the government.
“We will now have to use a food bank and apply for crisis loans while looking for new jobs.”
Mary said: ‘We have friends and family and hopefully we’ll get by, but we’re looking at using food banks at a time when the cost of everything is skyrocketing.
“The last two years have been really tough, and I feel like it’s going to get worse now, although at least Graham’s cancer is in remission.
“I don’t think these people realize that when they do things like that, it’s a whole household that suffers, not just an individual.
“We had hoped that at least we would have decent rewards considering all the years of service – you’d think loyalty would have meant something, but it’s not.”
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The business was one of the UK’s largest suppliers to supermarkets despite 17 years of account losses and six fish farms which continue to operate and are also for sale through administrators.
Accounts show that between 2017 and 2020 more than £6.5million was paid into ‘key management’.
The company’s 2020 report – the latest to be published – details more than £12m of ‘related party transactions’ involving ‘persons exercising control, joint control or significant influence over the group’ .
Founded in 1973 and based in Uddingston, the company was majority owned by the family of Alastair Salvesen.
He is named as the person exercising significant control over Companies House with a personal stake of more than 75% of the shares.
The company’s Dawnfresh Seafoods division, which operates seven fish farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will continue to operate in a solvent manner and is up for sale. It employs a total of 58 people.
Meanwhile, the Arbroath processing plant has been sold to Buckie-based smoked salmon producer Associated Seafoods, a subsidiary of Lossie Seafoods.
The deal will include the transfer of all 249 employees and will create a turnover of £85m.
Willie Brennan, a union representative for Dawnfresh, said: ‘Alastair Salvesen is one of Scotland’s richest men and yet he is now walking away leaving hundreds of poorly paid workers dry, it’s a shame.
“He was last seen in the company offices loading artwork from his office wall into the back of his car, I think he clearly cares about the paintings more than people.”
Last year, Uddingston workers received letters promising generous severance pay if they worked until this summer, when the factory would be closed.
But they now find themselves unemployed and without any compensation from the company, having to wait up to six weeks in the hope of securing minimum redundancy terms from the government.
Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, said: “It is disgusting to see how badly the workers at Dawnfresh have been treated.
“They were abandoned, lied to and abused by their employer throughout this process.
“I am furious with the way the company behaved and left these workers without pay or layoffs and left them dependent on crisis grants and food banks to pay their bills and get food.
“Our fury is compounded by the fact that the owner is one of the wealthiest people in Scotland and was more interested in saving his expensive works of art than 200 jobs.”
She added: “This situation is now an emergency and it requires an emergency support program from the Scottish
Government and greater coordination to help people between government, councils and other public bodies.
A spokesperson for joint trustees FRP Advisory said: ‘Any staff who believe they are owed salaries or other payments up to and including the week ending February 28 are actively encouraged to file a claim with from the Office of Severance Payments.
“The Arbroath facility was sold for £1.2m and Alastair Salvesen will not benefit from the sale.
“The reference to related parties relates to an additional loan of £13 million made available to the group in 2019 and 2020 by Alastair Salvesen and the family trust.
“He made no income from the business.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed with Dawnfresh’s decision to enter administration and supporting workers and their families is our immediate priority.
“Business Minister Ivan McKee continues to work with businesses, agencies and partners to explore viable options for the future of the site, including engaging with local unions and MSPs.”
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