More than 100 production workers at the Kilver Street site will vote on whether to strike or adopt some other form of industrial action in a ballot that closes on Friday 24 January.
Workers at the site were enduring a fourth year of a pay freeze, claimed the union. The row focuses on a 3% pay rise for 2012-13, which was said to be conditional on a wage freeze in the following year.
Production staff were furious that office workers were awarded a 3% increase, which they have enjoyed for the past 18 months, said the union.
‘Future pay freeze’
Hugh Kirkbride, unite regional officer said: “We have a situation where a highly profitable company is trying to tie a pay rise to a future pay freeze.
“When we got the offer of 3% our members voted to accept. The company then came back and said it was conditional on our members agreeing to a pay freeze in the following year. We re-balloted and our members rejected the conditional offer. The company then took the 3% off the table and refused further talks.”
That was not acceptable as union members struggled to make ends meet as they wrestle with soaring household bills and watch their pay falling behind in real terms, he argued.
“This is about fairness, and our members don’t see why they should be in the fourth year of a pay freeze when their colleagues in the offices and the labs have already had a 3% rise.
“Gaymer’s hardline stance goes against the New Year message from Confederation of British Industry director general John Cridland who told companies that workers should share in their new found prosperity.”
‘New found prosperity’
Unite said its suggestion of referring the dispute to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service had been rejected by management.
A spokesman for the firm said Shepton Mallet Cider Mill had made significant investment in its mill to ensure a long-term future for the facility and secure jobs.
But the firm had been unable to reach agreement with Unite over pay, despite making what it described as “an industry-beating offer” to the workforce, covering both 2012 and 2013.
“The local Unite representative has misrepresented the facts in a number of key areas and we have asked the union for a meeting to discuss his involvement in the process,” said the spokesman. “We are aware that Unite’s members are now being balloted on industrial action and we sincerely hope that common sense will prevail and such unnecessary and potentially damaging action will be rejected.”
The spokesman said that in the event of industrial action, there would be no immediate threat to supply of the Shepton Mallet cider brands. “We will continue to update our customers and suppliers as the situation develops,” he said.
Gaymer Cider is owned by the C&C Group – the world’s second largest cider maker. Its household brands include: Gaymers Original, Olde English and Blackthorn.