The dispute – at Bakkavör’s pizza plant in Harrow – has been rumbling on for “months and months”, Gary Carter, an organiser at the GMB union told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“It started last year when they proposed a pay freeze for 2009-2010 across all UK sites. GMB members at Harrow were asking for a 2.5% increase in basic pay and minor increases to holiday and sick pay.
"All the management was prepared to offer was a lump sum of £50 and a much lower offer just covering 2010-2011.
“Members have just got to the stage where enough is enough. Harrow is a profitable plant with a hard-working, long-serving and loyal staff, and they are disappointed and frustrated with the way that the management has handled this.”
GMB members were willing to consider a two-year pay deal (covering the period from September 2009 to September 2011) but the total on offer from the company did “not even satisfy the claim for the first year so it is not surprising that negotiators are recommending rejection of all the proposals”, added GMB senior organiser Tony Warr.
The GMB is conducting an indicative ballot (results due July 12) before progressing to a formal strike ballot, he added.
“I already have reports of industrial unrest at Harrow due to the management’s abhorrent attitude to this particular negotiation and I fully expect we will be balloting for industrial action over the next few weeks following the indicative ballot.”
The GMB has 400 members at the Harrow plant (out of a workforce of about 750), said Warr: "To ask the workforce to accept less than £1 a week increase in pay while the Bakkavör Pizza coffers swell is scandalous.
"Our members did not ask for a pay freeze in 2009, it was simply imposed without any thought of negotiation or consideration of other alternatives.”
A fair offer in difficult trading conditions?
A spokesman for Bakkavör said: " After several meetings and discussions with ACAS involvement, we regret that we have not been able to make an offer which the union feels it can recommend.
He added: “In our view the offer we have made is a fair one in view of difficult trading conditions, with various options on a pay deal worth between 2.3% and 2.4%, as well as a one-off payment of £50 for all weekly paid employees.
“We believe that given the current economic climate this is a good offer and the best which we are able to make.”
Bakkavör posted a 24.6% rise in earnings (before interest tax, depreciation and goodwill amortisation) to £135.1m on sales of £1.65bn in 2009.
Commenting on the results in March this year, chief executive Ágúst Gudmundsson said the figures demonstrated a “strong improvement in profit delivery, good sales growth in our key UK fresh prepared foods business and a return to significant cash generation” after a tough couple of years.