Unite accepts talks offer but slams Heinz 'hypocrisy' as strikes continue

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Kitt green, Better, Strike action, Heinz

Unite accepts talks offer but slams Heinz 'hypocrisy' as strikes continue
Trade union Unite has accepted an offer from Heinz to attend talks tomorrow aimed at resolving the ongoing dispute at its Kitt Green canning site, but has attacked the firm's "hypocrisy" over pay.

Around 1,200 staff began a second 24-hour strike from 6am this morning, angered by what they see as an inadequate below RPI yearly pay offer of 3.3% plus £200, and a possible further rise of up to three per cent in 2011, plus disputed improvements to the healthcare scheme.

Unite is planning a further 24-hour strike before the end of 2010, but Jennie Formby, national officer for food and drink told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the union had accepted an invitation from Heinz to meet site union representatives tomorrow.

“Of course, we’re happy to do so, We’re meeting the company in Manchester tomorrow morning, but I am concerned by the fact that I only received the invitation letter after Heinz had briefed the media.

“I hope it’s not a cynical attempt to win a propaganda victory, and that they do have a genuine intent to resolve this dispute.”

Improvements to pay offer?

Unite insists that action will not end until the firm improves upon its current pay offer, but a Heinz spokesman said yesterday: “We have also confirmed ​[to Unite] that the current offer…is still on the table for now. It remains well above our competitors and average weekly earnings, which are increasing by 1.7%.”

Asked whether this indicated lack of movement, Formby said: “Well, perhaps you’re seeing something we’re not: our understanding is that this is meeting with no preconditions.”

Unite warned today against alleged company efforts “to paint workers as greedy in the current austere climate”​, and Formby said: “The company is shamefully trying to smear this workforce as as grasping for more cash even though … they have worked extremely hard to deliver whacking great profits for Heinz.”

With company profit margins at 37%, she said, workers “rightly feel that the company is vastly wealthy and easily afford to help them meet the spiralling costs of living. Heinz’ refusal to do so is made worse when they continue to shower rewards on managers and shareholders.

“The hypocrisy of 15% bonuses for well-paid managers, but wage freezes for ordinary workers is staggering. Heinz workers are not being greedy, they just want fairness.”

Healthcare deal discontent

Formby said Unite was also angered by the fact that Jaap Wilbers (Kitt Green vice president) had written to workers, insisting this attempt to deter them from taking strike action had "backfired”.

Unite claims workers are also getting a raw deal over what Heinz claims is a better healthcare scheme: “The supposed `improvement' to healthcare is compulsory and comes at a cost to the workers of over £1 more a week, £52 per year," ​said Formby. "This is a far worse deal than they could get it as a private individual over the internet.”

Since Kitt Green produces around two million cans of a day, Unite insists that the walkouts are hurting production volumes, but a Heinz spokesman insisted the firm has enough produce to meet orders:

“We have plenty of beans and soups, which are important staples that consumers rely on," ​he said. "We don’t want to disappoint them, especially since many are facing a freeze on pay or even worse. There’ll be plenty of beans in the shops.”

Related topics: Meat, poultry & seafood

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