Seven poultry catchers at the Hook 2 Sisters site at Eye in Suffolk are to vote on strike action after being informed that they would have to work on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.
In a statement by workers’ union Unite, regional officer Steve Harley said poultry catching was a “very specialist” job, which meant there was a shortage of people willing to do this work, leading to a demand among employers.
He said: “Poultry catching is one of the dirtiest jobs you could imagine – and now the bosses want to deny our members quality time with their families on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. I think the public would regard such a demand as highly unreasonable.”
Harley said that automation had not been effective in this area of poultry processing.
“They have tried to use machines to do the work of the poultry catchers, but it was found that mechanical devices damaged the wings and legs of the chickens.”
He warned that any action would have a severe effect on the supply chain.
“If the strike by the poultry catchers goes ahead, it will cause serious disruption in the production chain – farms won’t have their birds collected at the right time and the production schedules at the factories will suffer.
“When we challenged management to remove this draconian loss of public holidays from the contract, they simply ended the consultations. Our members have been pushed into a corner by the high-handed attitude of the bosses.”
Harley did lay some of the blame at the feet of retailers.
“The root cause for this situation is the rapacious demands of the supermarkets on the poultry industry to squeeze costs to the minimum,” he said. “The industry needs to act in concert to call a halt to the demands being placed upon it by these retail giants, which have scant or no regard for those who work within the supply chains.”
Despite Unite stating that Hook 2 Sisters’ management was no longer in talks with the seven catchers, a spokesman for the business told Food Manufacture: “We note the ballot action and will continue an open dialogue with these seven individuals.”