Premier Foods strike threat as factory closures proceed

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Premier Foods makes Hovis-branded products at Wigan
Premier Foods makes Hovis-branded products at Wigan

Related tags: Premier foods, Trade union

Workers are planning strike action at Premier Foods’ Wigan bakery over use of agency labour and shift pattern changes, while the firm’s bakeries at Birmingham and Greenford shut on schedule.

The company announced plans to close the Greenford and Birmingham plants in November 2012, with a potential 900 job losses. That was after Premier Foods lost a £75M bakery contract with the Co-op Group, which included supply of its Hovis brand, to Allied Bakeries.

Now FoodManufacture.co.uk understands the Birmingham factory has already closed and the Greenford site closure is imminent, although Premier Foods has plans in hand to maintain product supplies.

It is also believed to have shifted some workers from crumpet production at Greenford to Wigan.

The Wigan site, which makes Hovis branded bread, has had a turbulent past, with intense negotiations between management, staff and unions over wages and working hours stretching back at least three years.

Employee unrest has flared up again over pay cuts and rearrangement of shift patterns and the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) plans to canvass workers on proposed strike action. A postal ballot is scheduled to run from August 6 for two weeks.

Hit hard

BFAWU rep Geoff Atkinson, who himself worked for Premier Foods for 22 years, told FoodManufacture.co.uk permanent production line staff had been hit hard by shift reorganisation recently.

“Some have seen a £85–£100 a week dip in earnings and that will never come back,”​ he added. “These are people who have been there for 20 or 30 years. This is a massive attack.”

At the same time, the company had brought in agency labour on zero-hour, or so-called ‘as and when’ contracts, to cover shift changes and staff shortages, he said.

He said some workers had been made redundant at the Wigan factory at the end of April and more were at risk of redundancy. Following strike threats, meetings were held with arbitration service ACAS, but a long-term agreement on working hours and pay was not secured.

In a statement issued today (August 2), Premier Foods said: “To deal with fluctuations in demand, we now want to introduce the option of agency labour to Wigan​.

‘No threat’

“There is no threat or detriment to the current Wigan workforce as a result of this proposal. Using agency is widespread across the food industry and nothing unusual.

“We have been talking to the trade union about this for some time and we will continue to talk to them to try to come to a satisfactory outcome.”

In February 2010, the company announced plans to close its rolls lines at Wigan, putting 98 jobs at risk.

As well as Hovis branded products, the Wigan factory, which employs more than 200 people, also makes own-label bread for major supermarkets.

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