Jenny Formby, Unite national officer, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “They [Greencore] have behaved in a very hostile way: giving notice of individual change of contract, and threatening people that if they don’t accept what’s on the table they’ll replace them with agency workers.”
In the continuing dispute over the chilled food manufacturer’s pay and conditions, Unite accused the firm of breaching the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) code. The union filed a complaint with the ETI earlier this month.
Greencore responded in a statement last week [July 19], which accused Unite of misrepresenting the facts.
The statement said: “Greencore believes Unite is deliberately misrepresenting the facts of the present situation and strongly refutes the assertion that it has contravened any employment law at any stage during the course of this process. Greencore takes all such allegations extremely seriously.”
When asked whether Unite was “misrepresenting the facts”, Formby said: “It’s just nonsense. The opposite is true. They haven’t refuted any claims about the company trying to undermine the trade union, which is interesting.”
Notice of termination
She claimed Greencore had issued notice of termination of contracts weeks before the consultation was due to end. These were allegedly followed by offers of re-engagement under new conditions on July 2.
“They said they’d still talk to us,” she said. “But the reality is they’d already made the situation a fait accompli.”
Greencore claims that changes to the terms of staff employment have become necessary because the site has been “substantially loss making for the past two years due to over-capacity in the market, an increase in material costs and a weak consumer environment”.
The manufacturer also claimed Unite had accepted that the site was loss making.
‘Loss leading’ claim
Formby denied this claim. She said: “Greencore has, for some time, been increasing its sales and revenue.
They’re doing very well. They’re selling their cakes and desserts at less than it costs them to produce to use them as a loss leader with the supermarkets.”
She said staff had made numerous suggestions to improve efficiency and reduce waste, to the tune of “hundreds of thousands of pounds in savings”. These proposals weren’t, as Greencore had allegedly claimed, on the level of “turning the light off”.
“They’re paying their staff the minimum wage,” Formby said. “And they’re producing food really cheaply. If they still can’t make a profit there’s something very seriously wrong.”
Formby said staff had been trying to help Greencore by temporarily agreeing to reduce the terms and conditions of employment for overtime, bank holidays and shifts. This had been going on for the past two years.
“Now they [Greencore] are asking them to do so permanently,” she said.