Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk after reports surfaced of disquiet at the biscuit plants, Northern Foods said that its offer of a 1.5% rise in basic pay with additional bonuses if the site met or exceeded annual targets would potentially enable staff to earn 3-4%, a figure higher than the flat 3% the BFAWU is asking for.
“We’ve offered employees a 1.5% pay increase guaranteed, with an additional 0.5% if Fox’s achieves its yearly targets, and additional bonuses of up to 2% if the firm exceeds them. The Unite union [which represents staff at the Uttoxeter site and a small number of staff at Kirkham and Batley] has accepted the offer."
The rise would take effect from next April, he added."Our competitive offer to the BFAWU remains on the table, and is reflective of a base pay increase, together with a performance linked element which provides the opportunity to share in the benefits of Fox’s strong performance going forward.
"In the current economic environment, where many companies are freezing or reducing salaries, we remain disappointed that the bakers' union has not recognised that this offer is very competitive."
However, Ian Hodson from the BFAWU claimed that the company had been inflexible. Some staff also feared that a 'yes' vote for strike action (the results are due on Monday November 8) could count against them when Northern Foods decides which of its biscuit plants (Uttoxeter, Batley or Kirkham) to retain as part of a broader restructuring plan, he claimed.
He added: "If they could give me an assurance about these sites I would cancel the ballot today, but there is so much uncertainty."
As part of the £26.5m 'Project Golden', announced in November 2009 and due for completion next April, Northern Foods is increasing automation across all three biscuit sites. However, it said in June that the 'vision' was still to "move from three sites to two in the medium to longer term".
The automation would "further improve Fox's competitiveness, enhance margins and deliver earnings growth from April 2011, once this 18-month project completes", added a spokesman.
Key investments include a new Creams line at Kirkham, new automation for the Melts line at Batley and a new wrapping system in Uttoxeter.