A POTASH firm, forced to cut jobs amid falling reserves, has hit back at claims it is offering insulting redundancy payments.

ICL UK, in Boulby, east Cleveland, has been accused of proposing severance packages just above legal levels to hundreds of workers.

The company is reducing its workforce by about 350 people, including around 140 contractors, after finding underground potash levels are significantly lower than expected.

Claims have emerged the business is willing to pay just over the statutory redundancy threshold to affected staff, which Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland, has branded an insult.

However, ICL, known locally as Cleveland Potash, has refuted the allegations.

Mr Blenkinsop said: “A lot of the workers will have been used to what would be considered a decent wage in the area – perhaps in the region of over £30,000.

“It is devastating they have lost their jobs, but then to have this level of redundancy I would suggest is nothing but an insult.

“They deserve to be treated fairly and I have written to ICL UK to put forward that case.”

However, ICL bosses say no decisions have been made, with talks continuing with unions.

A spokesman added: “ICL UK, via the recognised unions, is conducting the statutory 45-day consultation period with the workforce.

“These discussions are continuing and are scheduled to recommence after the Christmas holidays.

“We are not prepared to comment on any details until our discussions are complete.

“We are disappointed and feel it is unhelpful Mr Blenkinsop has publicly made comments without knowing the complexity and details of the ongoing discussions.”

ICL is expected to let workers go by April next year, but has warned it faces losing another 350 staff in 2018 when its potash reserves run out.

To counter the loss, the company is expanding its focus on the fertiliser polyhalite, which it markets as polysulphate, and it is already building a factory to crush and process the mineral.

Bosses say that will give the firm a viable future and ensure it remains east Cleveland’s largest employer with about 400 staff from 2018 onwards.