National Living Wage row over ‘sleight of hand’

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

The Saucy Fish Co owner Icelandic Seachill has denied 'sleight of hand' over the National Living Wage
The Saucy Fish Co owner Icelandic Seachill has denied 'sleight of hand' over the National Living Wage

Related tags National living wage Employment Minimum wage

Chilled fish supplier Icelandic Seachill has rejected accusations, made by Unite the union, it was guilty of “sleight of hand” over its handling of the National Living Wage.

The Grimsby-based fish firm was accused of paying for the new National Living Wage by slashing overtime rates, ahead of its implementation next month.

“Unite is concerned that this practice will become widespread across the UK, when companies become legally obliged to pay the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour from  April 1,”​ said the UK’s largest union.

The union’s fears were supported by a report from recruitment giant, Manpower, it claimed. The report predicted employers were preparing to cut overtime and rates paid for weekend working, in a bid to claw back the extra cost of the National Living Wage. 

‘Manage our labour costs’

Icelandic Seachill was reviewing its labour costs and pay structures, the firm acknowledged in a statement. “Our priority is to ensure that we manage our labour costs in such a way that we provide our employees with an attractive and fair pay structure and the business remains competitive,” ​it said.

The business had begun a 45-day consultation on a proposal to change the terms and conditions of its weekly paid employees. These proposed changes were designed to ensure that the manufacturer retained the best workers, secured the future of the site and continued to operate efficiently, it said.

But Unite claimed the firm, which was said to rely on large amounts of overtime from its 400 workforce at the chilled site, was guilty of “an outrageous sleight of hand”.​ Its motivation was to recoup the money it would have to pay out for the 46 pence per hour increase required by the National Living Wage, it argued.

Unite regional officer Dave Monaghan said: “Our members are extremely angry at this jiggery-pokery and call on the management to put an end to this bad idea regarding the overtime rates.

“Without the enormous amount of overtime that our members put in, this profitable company would not be able to generate tens of millions in sales a year.”

The decision would cut the living standards of union members who rely on overtime to boost their already low wages, Monaghan claimed.

‘Imposition of reduced overtime rates’

Unite members had been invited to sign a petition in protest “making it clear they will not accept the imposition of reduced overtime rates”. ​The prospect of an industrial action ballot was said to be highly likely.

Icelandic Seachill md Simon Smith said: “We recognise any changes to pay structure can cause apprehension, which is why we’re consulting with employees. Until this consultation period ends, we cannot comment further on what changes will be made.

“I want to reassure our employees that we will always endeavour to provide a fair package and take their needs into consideration.”

These changes were necessarily to ensure Icelandic Seachill maintained competitiveness and retain its existing contracts with customers, he added.

“In addition to addressing pay structures, we have also undertaken projects to improve productivity, invested in plant and equipment and addressed costs in other areas of the business.”

Icelandic Seachill is a leading supplier of chilled fish and supplier of prawn cocktails, party foods and fishcakes. It also owns The Saucy Fish Co. brand.

What they say about the row

  • Unite the union: “Unite is concerned that this practice will become widespread across the UK, when companies become legally obliged to pay the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour from  April 1.”
  • Icelandic Seachill:“Our priority is to ensure that we manage our labour costs in such a way that we provide our employees with an attractive and fair pay structure and the business remains competitive.” 

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