Heinz met with union representatives in Manchester yesterday to try and hammer out a pay deal at the Wigan canning plant, after a second 24-hour stoppage that saw 1,200 workers down tools ended early yesterday morning.
Unite affiliated workers are upset at a proposed pay deal for factory workers that will see them receive a below RPI pay rise of 3.3% plus £200 this year, and a possible 3% increase in 2011; the union says this runs "far below" current 4.7% inflation levels.
Angry union leaders believe workers deserve more, given Heinz’ success, payouts to shareholders and bonuses for site managers. Unite national officer for food and drink Jennie Formby said before the meeting that the union was happy to talk, but only on the proviso that the current offer was improved.
But after talks broke down yesterday she said: "Heinz must start listening to their workers if they want to avoid an escalation to this dispute. Our members won't be palmed off with a second-rate deal that in real terms represents a cut in their standard of living, when Heinz is making such excellent profits and continuing to reward senior executives and shareholders so generously."
'Very fair offer'
A Heinz spokesman revealed to FoodManufacture.co.uk this morning that Unite is planning further walkouts on December 29 and January 5, and said the firm was “very disappointed that the strike days are expected to go ahead”. Unite later confirmed the first strike date and plans to start what it said was "inevitable" action from 21.50.
“The pay talks resulted in a revised offer being put to the Unite union negotiating team including the reinstatement of a performance related bonus," said the spokesman.
“Unite has rejected the offer and are not willing to put it forward for consideration by Heinz workers. We will seek to arrange further meetings with the union to resolve the dispute, but the ongoing industrial action will leave many totally perplexed.”
Heinz’ new offer “addresses a number of key points we received in extensive feedback from our employees”, the spokesman added.
“We have worked hard to improve what we already believed was a very fair offer in an attempt to try and bring an end to the dispute. Our offer is well above our competitors and UK average weekly earnings that are increasing by 1.7%. Heinz remains a top-tier employer and payer.”
Strikes come as demand peaks
But Formby slammed Heinz for simply "rehashing the existing deal", and Ian Wright, Unite convener at Kitt Green said management "were not prepared to add any value to an offer that our members have already overwhelmingly rejected".
Unite insists that each 24-hour stoppage costs Heinz around two million cans – its claimed daily output for Kitt Green – and the action has certainly hit the firm at a difficult time, with standard seasonal demand for comfort staples compounded by the recent bad weather.
“Supplies of Heinz Beanz and Soups continue to be available, and we are working as hard as we can to keep up with the huge demand as a result of the exceptional cold weather,” said the spokesman.