Heinz gears up for strike action at Kitt Green, Wigan

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Kitt green, Industrial action, Strike action

Heinz gears up for strike action at Kitt Green, Wigan
Heinz has "already taken steps" to ensure customers' shelves will remain stocked with Heinz beans in the event of strikes at its Kitt Green factory, bosses have revealed.

Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk after almost 90% of Unite union members taking part in a ballot at the factory said 'yes' to strike action, a spokesman said contingency plans were in place.

"We anticipate that supplies all our famous varieties, including Heinz Beanz and soups, will be unaffected by the industrial action since we have already taken steps to manage stock levels to ensure consumers are not disappointed."

He added: "We are maintaining an open communication channel with Unite via the site union representatives with a view to resolving the dispute, but the industrial action planned will leave many totally perplexed."

The outcome of the ballot was "very disappointing" ​given that the package on offer to staff stood out as "one of the best in the food and drink sector, the area and the country",​ he claimed.

“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 plans mass meeting on December 11

Union bosses will meet with staff to decide next steps at a mass meeting on December 11, but have urged Heinz to return to the negotiating table "with a fairer offer in a final attempt to settle the dispute and avoid industrial action".

Unite national officer for food, drink and tobacco Jennie Formby said: “Our members do not want to take strike action but have been left with no choice because they will not allow Heinz management to bully or fool its workforce into accepting its version of a “fair” pay deal."

The deal on the table currently represented "a reduction in pay in real terms", ​she added.

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.”

She added that Unite membership was "virtually 100% on the site",​ which employs around 1,200 staff.

Heinz: Offer represents 'great deal in uncertain economic climate'

However, Heinz corporate affairs boss Nigel Dickie told FoodManufacture.co.uk that 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 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.

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