The move follows anger amongst Unite members based at Kitt Green, at a below-inflation pay offer of 3.3% for 2010 – with an increase for 2011 capped at 3% – and what the union says are unduly high payouts to shareholders.
Graham Williams, Unite regional officer for Wigan, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that media reports stating that the letter to bosses – a legal requirement whereby a company is given 7-days notice of an intention to hold a strike ballot – would be issued last Saturday were inaccurate, but that it would be sent out early this week.
Anger over bonuses
Williams said: “Heinz has made three pay offers, and is not willing to improve upon its latest. In the meantime, they’ve paid their shareholders a 9% dividend, a figure that the guys on the coal face feel is unacceptable.
“There is going to be a ballot for industrial action, but since we have to check everyone’s address and membership (where this involves almost 1,200 staff) this takes time, so realistically we’re looking at sending a letter out to bosses early this week.
“Given current timelines, balloting is then likely to occur between November 17 and December 1, before the results are declared and any formal notice of strike action. So we could be looking at strikes from December 8."
Williams added that workers were upset by Heinz’ decision to re-draw bonus structures, as well as introduce a new scheme to regulate sick pay.
“The company want to change the rules so that if you take less than 10 days off in a year then you get a full bonus, with this reduced by an incremental percentage based upon how many days you take off over this threshold.”
Heinz bosses ‘perplexed’
Heinz director of corporate and government affairs Nigel Dickie said bosses were “perplexed” that a ballot was being held and that the firm’s headline pay offer increase had been rejected, “when site union representatives and the national officer acknowledge this final offer is the best that can be achieved.
“In addition, the offer also includes an annual non-performance related fixed payment of two weeks basic pay, a one-off payment of £200 plus significant improvements to the healthcare scheme.
“Against an uncertain economic climate and severe government cutbacks this is a great deal for Heinz people in Wigan, but the current action being contemplated will leave many totally baffled.”
Heinz’s Wigan plant turns out over one billion cans of product a year, and manufactures soup, beans and pasta meals.