The result of the ballot is expected at the end of the month, with strikes to follow in July while the World Cup (which Coca-Cola is sponsoring) is still in progress.
The decision to launch a formal strike ballot was taken after a meeting with management last Friday (June 4), said Alan Costello, GMB regional officer for members in Coca-Cola. "Both unions [the GMB and Unite] gave notice that they will now move to a formal ballot for industrial action to secure national bargaining. The ballot itself will start on June 11."
The 12 Coca-Cola sites affected are at Wakefield, East Kilbride, Northampton, Sidcup, Milton Keynes, Edmonton, Enfield, Bristol, Southampton, Exeter, Uxbridge, and Hammersmith.
Union members at these sites have already voted overwhelmingly in favour of conducting a strike ballot in a consultative ballot, said Costello. "Employees want to see national talks on major changes to key conditions of employment, including basic pay and pensions."
He added: "The Coca-Cola workforce is seeking national bargaining and the management has turned this down. The next step is to move to a formal ballot for strike action as employees have already voted by 96% in a consultative ballot to take strike action to secure national bargaining."
CCE recently announced changes to its pension scheme, which mean that workers will now be required to work until they are 65 (instead of 60) unless they are willing to accept a loss of up to a quarter of their pension, he claimed.
"GMB members do not consider that the extent of the cuts CCE made to its pension scheme are justified, particularly in the UK, where earlier this year it became the first ever brand to break through the £1bn sales barrier."
A CCE spokeswoman said: "CCE is very disappointed by the trade unions' intent to ballot for industrial action. We remain in and are committed to dialogue with all of our employees and with the unions, and we firmly believe this offers the prospect of a constructive outcome – unlike industrial action.
"In the current economic climate, the pay rises that CCE is offering are very competitive. Top of our agenda for discussion with the unions is agreeing the right approach to managing future pay negotiations.
"Changes to our defined benefit pension scheme followed a full consultation process directly with our employees and employee representatives. We informed the unions at the start of that process and listened to their feedback throughout. The defined benefit pension scheme will remain in place. It will now be more sustainable for the future and remains a very competitive and positive benefit for employees who are members."