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Unite slams Greencore’s ‘modern-day mill owners’ as workers strike

By Lorraine Mullaney , 30-Jan-2013
Last updated on 30-Jan-2013 at 13:34 GMT

Jennie Formby is leading the workers' protest at Greencore. Photo: Id8photography
Jennie Formby is leading the workers' protest at Greencore. Photo: Id8photography

Unite the union has slammed the “staggering greed” of Greencore’s “modern-day mill owners” as hundreds of workers prepare to walk out of Greencore’s Hull factory today (January 30).

This first-ever industrial action to occur at the Greencore Cakes & Desserts site is an attempt to reverse wage cuts, which Unite says amount to £40 a week per worker.

The union claims the strike will hit production of the novelty and celebration cakes stocked in Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury.

In a Unite ballot, 81% of members voted to strike. The union claimed Greencore had breached its promise to restore cuts made to employees’ terms and conditions of working in October 2011.

According to Unite, a tribunal ruled that Greencore should reverse its decision to cut workers’ terms and conditions but the company “dodged this” by issuing the workforce with new contracts.

In a letter to Greencore ceo Patrick Coveney yesterday (January 28), Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, wrote: “There have now been a number of employment tribunal hearings, which each time have found in favour of Unite, yet management refuses to listen. Instead, the only response has been to unilaterally amend contracts of employment.

‘Poverty pay and conditions’

“This has had the effect of making poverty pay and conditions permanent, despite breaching previous agreements and also despite being a clear breach of the Ethical Trading Initiative [ETI] Base Code.”

A spokesman for Greencore told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Greencore has issued a number of statements in the past in response to the Unite claims. We have made numerous attempts to resolve the issues.

“As well as continual dialogue with the workforce, we are also engaged in a legal process to try and find a resolution which, contrary to some claims, has not reached any conclusion. Therefore, it is inappropriate for us to make any further comments at this stage.”

€1.7M salary package

Unite national officer for the food industry, Jennie Formby, said: “The brass neck of this company and its ceo Patrick Coveney is staggering. In the week when Mr Coveney seeks a €1.7M salary package, his poorly paid workforce is on the brink of strike action for the first time ever in an effort to stop this employer robbing wage packets to reward Greencore’s boardroom.
 
“When brought into line by the law, Greencore simply ignores it. Imagine if this workforce had a similar disregard for the laws of this land? They would face jail, not the praise of analysts revelling in the £70M in profits alone this company generated last year.”
 
Formby appealed to major retailers such as Asda to ensure their suppliers upheld the law.

‘Point of despair’
 
Unite regional officer Malcolm Hancock added: “We urge the management now to take heed. They have brought this workforce to the point of despair. They have breached the ETI base code relating to living wages in the food sector and have forced the workers to take their employer to court over what is rightfully theirs.
 
“They [workers] are determined to stand up for decent treatment from these modern-day mill owners and Unite will support them every step of the way.”
 
Greencore is seeking to impose changes to terms and conditions and remove shift premia, overtime pay and bank holiday payments.

In August last year, Greencore Unite members flew to Dublin to lobby ceo Patrick Coveney as Greencore denied union claims that it had breached employment law by cutting its employees’ terms and conditions of working.

Meanwhile, Greencore's latest financial results revealed "robust margins ".