Workers at Cranberry Foods’ Holybank factory in Derbyshire have applied for trade union recognition with Unite under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
A unionisation ballot was held last Friday, with the result due later today, and Unite said the run-up to the ballot marked the culmination of a year-long struggle by staff to gain union recognition at Cranberry Foods.
According to the union, the campaign has grown increasingly embittered due to Cranberry Foods’ use of US labour-relations consultancy firm The Burke Group (TBG), which offers consultancy services for “union free” workplaces.
The union claims that TBG is a “notorious union buster”, and that its employment by Cranberry Foods is a “clear breach” of the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) base code, under which firms guarantee basic trade union association rights for workers.
Unite also says it has evidence of actions that violate the code, undertaken by workers at Cranberry Foods (apparently on TBG’s prompting), ahead of the ballot in favour of a ‘No’ vote on unionisation.
But speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk, Cranberry Foods’ joint md David Horn (left of picture) “wholeheartedly denied” breaching the code, although he confirmed Cranberry had employed TBG on a consultancy basis.
ETI base code breaches
On August 6 Unite wrote to Horn:“We are aware that the consultants you are using are in fact the Burke Group…and we are fully aware of the tactics that they use.”
The letter continues: “Use of the Burke Group is a clear breach of the ETI base code. On this basis we will be lodging a formal enquiry with the ETI and you have been made verbally aware of some…breaches.”
Section 2 of the ETI base code safeguards freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Clause 2.1 states: “Workers, without distinction, have the right to join or form trade unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.”
Clauses 2.2 to 2.4 also stipulate that employers should adopt an “open attitude” towards unions and their organisational activities, and ensure that union representatives are not discriminated against and can operate in the workplace.
Risks of unionisation
But TBG’s website states: “TBG believes that a positive employee relations environment is best-measured by one that requires no union.”
According to the site, unionisation risks include the loss of flexibility to make workplace changes and an inability to recruit the best talent due to a refusal to work in a unionised environment.
Other potential problems include disruptive stoppages and grievance systems that encourage poor performance:“After unionisation a significant number of the best workers are either forced or choose to leave,” TBG claims.
Unite director of organising Sharon Graham told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "The Burke Group is pretty notorious for its anti-union attitudes and practices, which are now being employed elsewhere in the UK under a variety of guises.
“It is appalling that Cranberry Foods must be spending tens of thousands of pounds on the TBG; instead they should spend more time engaging with the concerns of workers.”
Cranberry Foods claims to be the UK’s second-largest turkey producer. With an £82m turnover it supplies major multiples such as Tesco, Asda and the Co-op Group.