Dave Oglesby of Britain’s general union GMB told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I’ve been a union rep for eight years and I’ve never seen a company be so aggressive towards its workers.”
Cranswick undertook a 30-day consultation process with its employees and the GMB union. After this time, 12 weeks notice was given of the termination of the current contract of employment and an offer of re-engagement was made under new terms and conditions. This becomes effective on October 1.
“We’re taking advice from our lawyers over whether this constitutes unfair dismissal,” said Oglesby. “A contract of employment requires agreement between two parties to change it.”
About 78 butchers picketed the site yesterday (August 30). They face a pay cut of 20% and haven’t had a pay rise for 10 years, according to Oglesby.
Chris Aldersley, the plant’s md, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I completely disagree with that statement. They’re paid on an element of throughput so they have taken more money home. They’re taking a headline figure with their overtime included. And these are the same people who say they don’t want overtime.”
Work harder and faster
Oglesby said Cranswick introduced automation and efficiency measures that were raising safety concerns for staff at the site.
Management has built new extensions to the factory and changed the way the lines are laid out to achieve more productivity.
Aldersley said: “Cranswick has invested heavily in the Preston facility in order to safeguard the future of the plant and its excellent workforce. This is in stark contrast to much of the country’s meat processing industry, which is experiencing great difficulties.”
But Oglesby says employees now have to work much faster to keep up with the line speeds, which is raising safety issues.
“There’s been an increase in butchers getting cuts on their hands because they’re being asked to work so much faster – like machines,” said Oglesby.
“There’s fatigue and stress issues too. One chap collapsed on the line a couple of weeks ago.”
Aldersley said: “We operate very high health and safety standards, we had the [Health and Safety] executive here only yesterday. Staff have more working space than they had before and individual throughput is lower per line than it was before. Full risk assessments have been carried out.”
Oglesby said: “The overriding threat is that if butchers aren’t working to the correct speed and standard they will cut their pay even further.”
Workers now have to put their name on a list if they want to go to the toilet, he said.
He said: “Management has taken the position that they’re saving jobs but during the consultation we didn’t discuss job security and job losses. Its about implementing more efficient working.”
Oglesby says strike action was the last resort.
“This is not where we want to be,” he said. "From a union point of view, we want to reach an agreement. The picket line was the only option we were left with. We feel like we’re backed into a corner.”
Aldersley said: “We’ve been in an open dialogue. We’ve been here all along. There’s an element of reality in what we’re paying but our rates are still extremely competitive.”