Corporate affairs boss Nigel Dickie told FoodManufacture.co.uk that stoppages at the plant would “leave many totally baffled” given that Heinz factory employees’ pay and benefits were “among the very best in the country and in the top quartile in the region”.
The “vast majority” of process workers at Kitt Green earned more than 30% above the UK median wage for manual workers in industry, while pay increases at the site over the past three years had been “consistently above market rates”, he claimed.
He added: “The final offer we have made in real terms equates to a 4% (3.3% rise in basic pay plus a £200 lump sum) increase in year one with up to 3% next year, and includes an annual non-performance-related fixed payment of two weeks basic pay, plus significant improvements to the healthcare scheme.”
Unite: Mass meeting on December 11
However, Unite’s national officer for the food, drink and tobacco sector Jennie Formby told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the deal represented” a reduction in pay in real terms.”
Meanwhile, the union was “willing to talk [to management] at any time should they wish to resolve the dispute but to date they have chosen not to”, she claimed.
Unite has scheduled a mass meeting on December 11 to discuss next steps, while union members at Kitt Green have already mandated an initial 24-hour stoppage and an overtime ban at a previous mass meeting in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
She added that Unite membership was "virtually 100% on the site", which employs around 1,200 staff.
Unite: 3.3% offer 'considerably below RPI'
In a letter seen by FoodManufacture.co.uk sent to all employees with the ballot paper, Formby said: “The [proposed] 3.3% [increase in basic pay] offer for this year is considerably below the retail price index (RPI) at the anniversary of the deal, which was 4.8%.
“RPI has fluctuated since then, going above 5% for a couple of months and it now stands at 4.5% which is the lowest it has been since the anniversary date. Even with a £200 unconsolidated lump sum, the deal is only equivalent to additional pay of 4% for some but much less for others, so in effect the deal represents a reduction in pay in real terms.”
She added: “By capping next year’s deal at 3%, there is a real danger that again you will see a reduction in real terms.”
While Unite’s aspirations “may well be above what has been achieved elsewhere”, she acknowledged, “that is because Heinz can afford it. The results over several years have been exceptional and the latest interim results demonstrate this continues.”
Heinz: Offer represents 'great deal in uncertain economic climate'
But Heinz insisted that its latest offer represented a “great deal” in the current economic climate, and pointed out that it did not freeze pay last year when the retail price index was just 0.91%, unlike many other employers.
“In fact, we gave a headline increase of 2.8%. Pay increases of 4.5% and 5.4% were awarded in the previous two years, which again were consistently above market rates.”
It added: “This year the vast majority of managers received a 2.7% increase and in addition their performance related bonus was cut by 20%.
“In comparison with corresponding pay deals around the local area and the remainder of the food and drink industry, we believe we have offered a very fair deal that compares well and in most cases out performs industry benchmarks. “
Kitt Green is the biggest food production facility in Europe, manufacturing more than 1bn cans of soup, beans, puddings and pasta meals a year.