Regional organisor Joe Clarke told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the latest discussions between union officials and the firm in late May – following a initial consultative ballot on strike action where 98% of some 150 Unite members in a bargaining group voted for action after rejecting a 1.7% pay offer – had not reached a "satisfactory outcome".
Clarke said Unite was entering the early stages of potential industrial action, and was looking to hold a further postal ballot for staff based at West Bromwich. Around 450 workers are employed on the site overall, although only transport and distribution staff (around 150) could strike.
However, he added that the union had no timeline for any ballot, and that controversy over the British Airways vote last year (when the High Court injuncted strike action due to voting irregularities) meant that the union was taking care to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s” before taking further action.
He described the 1.7% rise tabled as “derisory” given Allied Bakeries’ parent firm Associated British Food’s (ABF’s) profits, and said that April’s 1% National Insurance increase meant workers would only receive a real terms increase of 0.7%, and were also being hit by RPI running at around 5.3%.
“The site is performing better now that ever, and has seen £25m of investment. According to ABF’s own accounts the [grocery] division has profit margins of around 18%,” Clarke said.
Nonetheless, he said he had feared for the future of the West Bromwich site “a few years ago”, and that ABF ceo George Weston had done an “exceptional job” to turn it around, and that it was now extremely efficient and performing well.
A fair deal
A spokesman for Allied Bakeries said: “Allied Bakeries has been a longstanding employer in the West Bromwich area for many years and our bakery offers staff competitive wages and good benefits. Despite the current economic situation and a tough environment in the bakery sector, we have been able to offer a fair pay rise."
We are extremely disappointed to hear that the trade union is seeking a ballot for industrial action because this is not in the best interests of our staff, their families or our customers. We remain committed to customer service and to working with our employees to find a mutually acceptable solution.”
ABF group revenues increased by 9% to £5,207m for the 24 weeks ended March 5 2011. Adjusted operating profit was 5% ahead of last year at £390m.
Grocery revenue increased by 8% to £1,726m and profit rose by 17% to £111m, benefiting from a much reduced level of provisioning for the cost of manufacturing reorganisation.