A unionisation ballot was held at the turkey processing facility in Holybank last Friday, with union Unite saying that the run-up to the vote marked the culmination of a year-long struggle by staff at the firm to gain union recognition.
Unite’s director of organising Sharon Graham told FoodManufacture.co.uk on Friday that of 289 eligible voters at the turkey processing plant, 245 submitted ballot papers, with 116 votes in favour and 127 against, while two papers were spoilt.
Graham said: “We only lost by six votes, and we plan to pursue this issue. Of course, the vote wasn’t fair because given the unfair practices employed it is obvious that more than six voters were swayed to vote ‘No’.”
According to Unite, the campaign for unionisation had 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.
Unite says 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 wrote to Cranberry Foods on August 6 alleging code breaches and stating that it had lodged a formal enquiry, and Graham said after the ballot that the union would continue to pursue action against the company via the ETI.
The ETI code is significant, because although a particular supplier may or may not be a member, signatories include major supermarket chains such as Asda, which is supplied by Cranberry Foods.
Firms signing-up are obliged to consider ‘ethical trade’ factors such as fair unionisation rights, wages, hours of work, and health and safety when sourcing goods.
Protecting union rights
Cranberry Foods’ joint md David Horn “wholeheartedly denied” that his firm was in breach of the code last week.
However, Julia Hawkins from the ETI said the mere fact of employing a ‘union avoidance’ firm such as TBG constituted a departure from the ETI code.
Hawkins added that the code’s members had been alerted to allegations by Unite that ‘No’ campaigners at the factory had intimidated union members and exerted anti-union pressure, allegations strongly denied by the company.
“ETI members sourcing from Cranberry are responsible for using their influence over their suppliers to ensure that workers have the space and confidence to organise themselves into unions or other democratic structures if they choose to do so,” she said.
“These companies have confirmed to us that after being alerted to the situation at Cranberry they have conducted initial investigations and sent it clear messages about its responsibilities for protecting union rights under the base code.”
In addition to employing TBG, Graham said Unite’s regional team had documented other code breaches committed by the company.
“There was even a projector on the canteen saying ‘Vote No!’ Given the clear evidence of what TBG were up to, the supermarkets need to act, as does the ETI.”
Positive employee relations
TBG’s website states: “TBG emphasises that all employees have a legally protected right to either organise or remain union free.”
However, in its mission statement, it says: “TBG believes that a positive employee relations environment is best-measured by one that requires no union.”
According to the website, 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.
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.