Union Unite regional officer Tony Ellingford told FoodManufacture.co.uk that British Sugar would be given a week’s notice of a strike ballot early this week.
The Union was acting “by the book”, in following procedures in preparing to ballot members he said.
But he accused British Sugar of bad practice. Ahead of any legal strike notification, it was refusing staff requests for holiday leave, due to the impact of any potential industrial action.
At least two staff had complained to the union over holiday being refused in the past couple of days, he said.
Ellingford said: “We are advising members to lodge a grievance if any holiday request is refused because of the threat of a strike. No decision has been taken and the ballot has yet to start. If the union acted in this way its funds would be sequestrated.”
Any potential strike action would start in about five weeks time, he said.
“The sugar campaign [harvest and processing of sugar] will be running. However, members have always been allowed to take holidays during the campaign,” said Ellingford.
British Sugar said in a statement that it was preparing for the 2011/12 campaign start on September 14 at its sites at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Wissington near King’s Lynn, Cantley in Norfolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire.
A spokeswoman said: “The campaign period is our busiest time across our factories and therefore we effectively plan our resources to ensure we are able to meet our operational demands.
“We encourage all employees to agree the majority of their holidays at the earliest opportunity, however the company does reserve the right to refuse requests for holidays due to operational requirement demands.”
Nearly 300 union members at the sites have rejected a 3.5% British Sugar pay offer.
Unite is demanding a pay rise in line with retail price inflation of 5% plus 0.5% for the year from April 2011, arguing that British Sugar is a profit-making company.
The union has been collating detailed data on names, addresses and job titles of its members at British Sugar and checking legal technicalities as it prepares to ballot for a strike.
Strike action may include an overtime ban and consecutive strike days at different parts of the British Sugar operation.
The union was prepared to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, Ellingford said but British Sugar was not.