Premier Foods Wigan staff vote for strikes

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Union members at Premier Foods’ Hovis factory in Wigan have voted for strike action
Union members at Premier Foods’ Hovis factory in Wigan have voted for strike action

Related tags: Premier foods, Trade union

Premier Foods staff at its Hovis Wigan bakery have voted for strike action in protest at the use of agency workers on zero-hours contracts following permanent employees’ redundancies and pay cuts.

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.

Final straw

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.

‘Unacceptable’

“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.”

Related topics: Bakery

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4 comments

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Very Little truth

Posted by Andy Moorhouse,

"It is unfortunate that most of the comments from the union are untrue. People who had been on zero hours contracts have been offered full time employment, and any agency staff have been well below 1% of the full time population. This is one man's agenda to make a name for himself at the cost of his own members."
Posted by Barry Twidale" 23/8/13
OK this is a former Premier boss (and, yes, we have history) But this just shows the ignorance of Premier's management team. From Sunday the 21st of July to Friday the 26th at management's insistence, we conducted a workplace ballot. 178 out 220 members voted: 166 voted against the firm's offer; 1 vote was spoiled. Only 11 thought it was a good idea! Hmmm...one man's agenda? I think not! As to untruth - don't get me started. Then we had a postal ballot : 160 voted : 120 for strike action : 39 against : and again 1 spoiled (note a good number arrived too late to be counted). So, again, one man's agenda eh? No, more like ignorant managers mishandling events at any and every opportunity.

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Very true

Posted by Debbie Frodsham,

Reply to Barry Twidale, who is ex-manager at Hovis Wigan.
Your comments are also untrue. 19 employees on zero hour contracts were given full-time employment. Six people were still on zero-hours contracts, but have been given contracts today as a result of our actions. This is no one-man band which is certainly the view of management at Wigan. If management listened to their employees we probably would not be in the situation that we are in. If you believe that then come and take a look at our one-man band picket line. You would be made to feel most welcome.

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Little Truth

Posted by Barry Twidale,

It is unfortunate that most of the comments from the Union are untrue. People who had been on zero hours contracts have been offered full time employment, and any agency staff have been well below 1% of the full time population. This is one man's agenda to make a name for himself at the cost of his own members.

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