“To avoid any disruption to our customers during the course of the strike, we will continue to supply our core range of products from across our bakery network,” said a company spokesman.
“Production will also continue at our Wigan bakery with the support of employees not involved in industrial action.”
He stressed that Premier Foods was “disappointed" it had been unable to resolve the dispute and would “continue to search for a satisfactory outcome”.
FoodManufacture.co.uk understands there are about 100 workers on the picket line and some workers from other unions are refusing to cross it. Production is continuing, with Premier Foods moving workers off other roles to work on lines.
Meantime, a war of words has broken out between Premier Foods and the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which initiated the strike action at the behest of its members.
The strike proposal was made in protest, the union claimed, at Premier Foods using agency workers on zero-hours contracts to plug gaps in the permanent workforce and press them to accept changes in shift and pay structures.
Premier Foods has fought back against the BFAWU’s claim. “The limited use of agency labour to cover seasonal peaks, holiday and sickness absence is an integral part of our operational flexibility that is understood and accepted by all our other sites,” said the company spokesman.
“It is not, and has never been, our intention to replace full time staff with agency labour at our Wigan bakery.”
As a matter of principle, Premier Foods had moved away from the use of zero-hours contracts, he said. “Indeed, we have recently written to the last remaining six employees with zero-hours contracts based at our Wigan site confirming that their roles will be transferred to full-time contracts.”
However, BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper told FoodManufacture.co.uk on his way to the picket line: “Unless the company has done that overnight to appease the press, that is an absolute lie … They speak with forked tongue on this sort of thing.”
He also pointed out that Premier Foods had brought agency workers in on zero-hours ‘as-and-when’ contracts at the same time as making permanent employees redundant. “That’s a Second World War way of working.”
He said the BFAWU had no problem with drafting agency labour in during periods of high demand, but it did not agree with using it to fill in for workers who were off sick or on holiday, which he claimed had been the case.
The Premier Foods spokesman claimed: “Despite the bakers union protesting publicly about the use of zero-hours contracts, they have requested the reinstatement of zero-hours contracted labour in Wigan, which is something we will not agree to.”
However, Draper called that “absolute rubbish”.
In a ballot launched by the BFAWU, a majority of its members at the Wigan site voted in favour of strike action last week. The BFAWU then outlined plans for three week-long strikes, one from August 28 – September 4, the second from September 11–18 and the third from September 25 – October 2.