The result of the ballot had been due today, with sources close to the firm predicting the result could go “either way”.
However, the ballot has been called off after Fox’s Biscuits’ parent company Northern Foods highlighted technical problems with the balloting process that could invalidate the result, BFAWU representative Ian Hodson told FoodManufacture.co.uk this afternoon.
“We’ve pulled the ballot. The company raised a technical issue with us that would have enabled it to contest the result. The problem was that our lists were not up to date and a number of people that had been made redundant or had been promoted from the shopfloor and put on salaries [so not eligible to vote] were still balloted.”
The union would “probably” conduct a re-ballot but would decide for definite after discussions with union reps during the next few days, he said.
1.5% rise in basic pay
Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk last week after reports surfaced of disquiet at Fox’s Biscuits, 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 was 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."
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.