Fish firm denies ‘dodgy wage tactics’ in union row

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Something fishy? Icelandic Seachill is accused of ‘an outrageous sleight of hand’
Something fishy? Icelandic Seachill is accused of ‘an outrageous sleight of hand’

Related tags Icelandic seachill

Chilled fish supplier Icelandic Seachill has denied accusations that its handling of the National Living Wage (NLW) will leave workers worse off, after unions escalated their concerns to the European Commission (EC).

The Grimsby-based firm, part of the Icelandic Group, was accused of paying for the new wage rate, which came into force on April 1, by slashing overtime rates and changing workers’ contracts without agreement.

A letter of complaint has been handed to the EC from the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism (EFFAT).

The letter claimed workers at the site faced the threat of dismissal unless they agreed to “the detrimental changes to their overtime rates”​.

‘Hard-line stance’

Unite, the union representing the workers, criticised “the hard-line stance of the UK management”​, which it claimed was pressuring the workers to sign new contracts that would significantly reduce pay packets.

Icelandic Seachill said it believed the majority of its workforce would be better off as a result of the proposed changes to terms and conditions.

A consultation, still in progress, would continue up to May 6, and the company was “hopeful” ​that the majority of its employees would agree to the new terms, having had indications that this would be the case.

Icelandic Seachill md Simon Smith said: “We have invested a significant amount in the overall wage increase and have shared information about the overall cost to the business, our profitability and our performance to ensure that our employees are fully aware of all the facts.”

‘Sleight of hand’

Unite last month said Icelandic Seachill, which relies on large amounts of overtime from its 400-strong workforce, was engaged in ‘an outrageous sleight of hand’ to recoup the money it is paying out for the 46p an hour increase required by the NLW.

It claimed the bosses at the Laforey Road plant were now paying staff £7.20 an hour since the dispute started, and not the promised £7.35. It also accused the company of planning to slash overtime rates.

Unite regional officer Dave Monaghan said: “Our members at Grimsby very much welcome the support of the ETF and EFFAT in this on-going dispute, which is basically an outrageous sleight of hand of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“It now appears that the company that puts a high value on its good ‘reputation’ will start dismissing the workers if they don’t sign the new – and adverse – contract that will guarantee a big hole in their pay packet.

Icelandic Seachill said that for the “small number of employees” ​who might choose to reject its contract proposal, it would serve notice to those employees and offer re-engagement on new terms.

ETF and EFFAT said:

“We understand that workers at Icelandic Seachill (chilled site) in Grimsby face the threat of dismissal unless they agree to the detrimental changes to their overtime rates.

“We call on your company to resolve this dispute on the basis of respect for international human rights standards, including the fundamental International Labour Organisation conventions.

“We support the workers, represented by trade union Unite, and demand that the UK management at the site meaningfully engage with the union and commit to a recognition agreement that provides for full collective bargaining rights.”

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