Jennie Formby, national officer for food and drink at the Unite union told FoodManufacture.co.uk that – following this week’s 24-hour stoppage – around 900 staff at the canning plant would stage further action next week from 6am on Tuesday until 6am on Wednesday, as they continue to protest over the latest Heinz pay offer.
Staff are protesting at a below RPI yearly pay offer 3.3% plus £200 (which Heinz says equates to a 4% offer in real terms), including a possible rise of up to three per cent in 2011 and improvements to the healthcare scheme.
Formby said Unite remained keen to meet with the company, but only given the right terms: “The company are briefing the media saying they’re willing to talk with us, and we’re willing to meet with them at any time, but they must improve upon the latest pay offer, there’s no point otherwise.”
Heinz defends pay offer
Heinz director of corporate and government affairs Nigel Dickie said: “We’re disappointed with the action planned for next Tuesday, and further possible stoppages over Christmas, since there’s a very fair offer on the table (equivalent to 4% this year and 3% in the next), and the reality is that for the vast majority of our workers this is more than acceptable.”
He added that Heinz was willing to meet with Unite officials, but talked down suggestions in some quarters that management were ignoring approaches from the union, stressing that the firm only received its first invitation to engage in talks yesterday: “Prior to that Unite said it was asking for a meeting but we didn’t receive anything. But we will respond now, the lines of communication are open.”
‘We have plenty of beans’
Dickie also allayed fears that the strikes would lead to a shortage of products over Christmas: “We have plenty of beans and soups, which are important staples that consumers rely on. We don’t want to disappoint them, since many are facing a freeze on pay or even worse. There’ll be plenty of beans in the shops.”
Prior to the first 24-hour stoppage that began after midnight on Wednesday, Dickie said that he anticipated supplies of Heinz varieties such as Beanz and Soups would be unaffected by the action "since we have already taken steps to manage stock levels to ensure consumers are not disappointed".
But Formby said: “I can’t see how it won’t hurt Heinz. The firm says it won’t affect production, but the site is making two million cans - including beans and soups - a day, and the timing of this stoppage makes it difficult to restart production again.”
One production worker at Kitt Green, who contacted this publication anonymously, said that the mood on the factory floor was "rock solid" in support of strike action: "All the trust has gone between shop floor and management, and it's the shareholders who will suffer eventually, then they'll be asking questions of senior management," he said.