The row has escalated since the 2 Sisters Food Group bought the Carlisle ready meals manufacturer, which supplies Marks & Spencer, in April 2011. It subsequently proposed the introduction of reduced terms and conditions of working.
When asked what the likelihood of reaching a compromise was, Lee Sherriff, a city councillor for Harraby, who attended the meeting, said the chances were “stronger than 50%”.
She told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We’re very optimistic. Everybody listened to each other and got their point across. There was more understanding. They’re all going back to the table and, hopefully, we can come to an agreement.”
Carlisle MP John Stevenson also attended the talks, along with Jayne Shotton, representative of the Union for Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. He stressed the importance of restoring trust between the management and the workforce to secure jobs for the future.
On the likelihood of this happening, Sherriff said: “Trust could be restored if the right outcome is reached. It should be a fair compromise. There were a few matters that the workers weren’t happy with.”
2 Sisters wants the 800 permanent staff at Cavaghan & Gray to accept reduced sick pay, redundancy terms and overtime and bank holiday payments. It also wants to restrict paid time off for hospital appointments and to scrap a good attendance bonus and an ill-health termination agreement. Further plans include streamlining the grievance procedure and moving weekly-paid staff to monthly salaries.
Last month (July) the workers rejected those proposals by two to one and management is now threatening to impose new contracts.
Fear for livelihoods
Sherriff expressed concern that the ongoing dispute was leaving families fearing for their livelihoods and that they were finding the stand-off with bosses “stressful”.
Andrew Hanson, head of communications at 2 Sisters Food Group, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Carlisle [the Cavaghan & Gray facility] is a viable site, we want to keep it competitive for the future. It has potential for further investment. The ready meals market is growing and, with growth, comes opportunity.”
Lynne Waters, HR director for the Chilled division of 2 Sisters Food Group, who attended the meeting, said: “The food industry has seen a number of sites close in recent years and we don’t want that to happen to Carlisle. It has a very good track record and we want the site to remain competitive into the future.
“All parties went away from the meeting feeling positive that a workable outcome can be achieved. We will resume discussions with trade unions and employee representatives.”