The Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) launched a two-week ballot of its members at the site on August 6 after management refused to address its complaints to its satisfaction.
BFAWU regional secretary Geoff Atkinson told FoodManufacture.co.uk out of about 230 ballot forms sent out, 120 votes were returned in favour of strike action, 39 votes rejecting strikes were received and one spoiled paper. The rest were not returned.
The factory employs 357 people.
Strikes are currently scheduled to run for three weeks, from August 28 to September 4; September 11 to September 18; and September 25 to October 2.
Staff at the factory had previously taken a hit to hours and pay to avoid redundancies unsuccessfully, said the BFAWU.
The hiring of temporary workers on zero-hours contracts, which do not specify set hours of working and carry extremely flexible terms concerning conditions, was the final straw, it said.
Atkinson said he had so far had no response to the strike vote from Premier Foods’ management team. He said the BFAWU would only back down from strike action if Premier Foods stopped using agency labour on lower pay rates than permanent employees to fill jobs permanent employees could do.
In a press statement on the issue, Atkinson warned: "Further branch meetings will be held to extend the action unless the company comes to a satisfactory agreement with the Union on the withdrawal of agency labour from the site.
“BFAWU members at Hovis, Wigan have not taken this decision lightly. They have no desire to lose pay.
“However, they see the current situation as unacceptable and are determined not to allow the company to set precedents, undermine current terms and conditions, create a two tier workforce and leave a poor legacy for subsequent generations of people who may be employed at Hovis in the future.”
He urged Premier Foods to re-enter negotiations with the BFAWU to find a way to resolve the dispute fairly, amicably and in a way that reflected the strength of feeling among the workforce.
Zero-hour contracts had reached “epidemic proportions”, he added, saying some estimated up to one million UK workers were employed on them.
Premier Foods response
A Premier Foods spokesman responded: “As a matter of principle, we have moved away from the use of zero-hours contracts and currently have no zero-hours contracted employees at the company, including at our Wigan site.”
He said the company used a limited amount of agency labour to accommodate short-term peaks in demand across its sites. However, he stressed this was common practise in the food industry.
“By using temporary labour, we are able to react very quickly to peaks in demand for our products, for instance in the run up to the Christmas period. Equally, by using such labour we avoid having to make redundancies in our full-time workforce if demand temporarily slips back.
“Our use of agency labour across the company is a relatively small proportion of our total workforce and the need for such labour is understood and accepted by the unions at the vast majority of our sites. Temporary agency employees are contracted with the agency they work for and we do not have direct contracts with these employees.”