In a ballot last Friday (December 7) by the union Unite, about 1,200 workers voted to stage three days of 24-hour strikes in a protest over pay, working conditions and a culture of alleged bullying.
Andrew Hanson, head of communications at 2SFG, told Foodmanufacture.co.uk: “2 Sisters is a growing company, we will be creating 500 jobs in the local area, but we can only do this by working with our employees and if there is no strike.”
Hanson says increased demand for its chickens means better security for existing workers and a further 500 jobs over the course of 2013, but supply can only be met by a move to a five in seven-day working pattern.
Hanson said: “We will do everything possible to prevent any action going ahead and risking these jobs – we will continue working together with our employees and remain confident that we all want job security, to serve our customers and to grow our business.”
‘Desperate to take a stand’
Describing 2 Sisters workers as “desperate to take a stand against a paltry pay offer”, Unite regional officer Des Quinn told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “They [2 Sisters] want to avoid a strike. I’m confident from their response that their customers have cranked up the pressure about our allegations.”
2 Sisters argues that it has offered workers an “attractive” and “above inflation” pay offer of 7% over two years, 5% overall in in year one, based on five in seven-day working to meet “shoppers’ demand”.
Quinn said: “The management should be under no illusion at the depth of anger that our members feel at the way they have been treated for far too long by this company.
“Unite is willing to hold talks with the company in the days ahead to achieve a fair and equitable settlement on the pay issue and other matters that are of vital concern to our members.”
‘Don’t want to risk jobs’
Hanson said: “We’re very disappointed that Unite has voted to reject our above inflation pay offer and opt for industrial action and we don’t believe this is reflective of what the majority of employees are telling us individually, which is: they don’t want to strike and they don’t want to risk jobs.”
Unite says workers voted for strike action by 98.5% and 97.2% for industrial action short of a strike. The turnout was 57%.
Unless an agreement is reached, the first 24-hour strike will start at 6am on December 14.
Hanson said: “If a strike goes ahead, we’ll still be able to supply the needs of our customers from other sites and we’ll remain open for business and encourage our employees to come to work as normal.”
‘Essential we can manage our costs’
“It is essential we can manage our costs to sustain jobs, our sites and to keep competitive – our costs are going up, with chicken feed prices up 25%, energy costs doubled and new legislation costs.
“We have seen other food companies – such as Vion and Premier Foods – cut jobs and close factories recently. 2 Sisters needs to retain its competitive advantage to create the 500 jobs we are planning in the local area and to provide job security. We can only do this by working together and remain confident that we all want the same things.”
Quinn said: “I’m working to avoid a strike. We plan at least another meeting next week. We’ll burn the midnight oil to make a deal but we’re not so desperate we’ll make a bad deal. We’re not scared to use the nuclear option of the investigations into the beatings and bullying that are going on.”
The ballot took place at the at the Bevan Way and Dial Lane sites in Smethwick, West Bromwich and the Lincoln Street plant in Wolverhampton.