The union is to begin balloting its 250 members on Wednesday, September 21 on whether to take strike action or industrial action short of a strike. The ballot will close on Wednesday October 12.
Unite’s members are based at British Sugar’s plants at Wissingham, near King’s Lynn; Cantley, near Great Yarmouth; Bury St Edmunds; and Newark in Nottinghamshire.
Unite wants a pay deal equal to Retail Price Index inflation, currently running at 5.2%. It also wants an extra 0.5% for the year April 2011- April 2012 for its members who include engineers and production staff.
Unite regional officer, Mick Doherty said: "Our members are being hit very hard by the soaring cost of living. British Sugar is a very profitable company, and despite its complaints that the sugar beet crop was hit by last winter’s bad weather, it is well able to afford a decent pay rise."
A spokesman for British Sugar told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "We have worked extremely hard with the trade unions to secure an offer that we firmly believe is fair and reasonable within the current economic conditions, and is above average pay awards in the external market place.
"The offer comprised a 3.5% consolidated increase in salaries for all employees (permanent, seasonal and temporary), an increase in the contractual notice period from one week to one month for both the employee and company, and for employees retiring from British Sugar to provide the company three months notice.
“All components of this package were recommended for acceptance by the trade unions to their members."
The spokesman added that members of the GMB union have accepted the pay offer.
"British Sugar has undertaken all necessary steps to mitigate any disruption to our four processing factories and the delivery of our products to our customers."
Meanwhile, Britain’s biggest unions have pledged a winter of walkouts by public sector workers after unveiling strike ballots over pensions.
Unite, Unison, the GMB and the Fire Brigades' Union plan to consult members about co-ordinated industrial action to start in November.
Dave Prentis Unison's leader, told the TUC's annual conference: "'The fight of our lives' may be an over-used cliche, but make no mistake, this is it."