The union called for the manufacturer’s temporary increase of £1 an hour to production workers’ pay during the COVID-19 crisis to be made permanent, to help essential workers “afford the essentials”.
This was on top of demands for Pioneer to introduce a proper sick pay scheme for workers across its Peterborough and Wellingborough sites. This would see workers receive pay from the first day they were off sick.
As it stands, workers are only entitled to the Government’s statutory sick pay scheme. This had led to some members of staff having to sacrifice holiday entitlements when they were off sick to avoid losing cash, according to Unite.
‘Paid a pittance’
Unite regional officer Adam Oakes accused Pioneer Foods of paying essential workers “a pittance”. It claimed the COVID-19 crisis had exposed how essential workers crucial to food supply and production had been underpaid and poorly treated “for too long”.
“Earning around the minimum wage is not good enough,” he added. “Allegations that some workers are using holiday entitlements to cover their costs while off sick is a serious concern, particularly in the current circumstances.
“Essential workers must be able to afford life's essentials, like putting food on the table and paying the bills. They also need a proper sick pay scheme from day one or when a worker must self-isolate. The temporary pay increase for workers at Pioneer Foods must now be made permanent.”
In response to Unite’s demands, a spokesman for Pioneer told Food Manufacture it independently conducted regular benchmarking exercises in terms of pay scale and was confident that the compensation it offered compared favourably with that of its industry peers.
“While ensuring the wellbeing of our employees, it is also critical that we maintain business continuity at a time when the global economy is severely impaired,” the spokesman added. “For that reason, and to ensure the ongoing employment of our entire workforce, we are unable to consider implementing this increase on a permanent basis.”
The spokesman also noted its existing policy on sickness pay stood in line with employment contracts.
Completely optional choice
“However, as an additional benefit during this time, we have allowed employees to take paid leave instead, if they wish,” they added. “This is entirely optional if needed.”
Pioneer has already implemented a number of improvements at its sites after workers shared their concerns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. These included new hand-washing stations, metal screens between packers, visual marks for social distancing and more space for workers to have lunch while keeping an acceptable social distance.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has sparked a number of changes in food manufacturers’ operations.
Coronavirus’ impact has prompted Danone to speed up payment to its suppliers via a new platform supplied by C2FO, while Molson Coors Beverage Company has scaled back its UK operations and rationalised its range to deal with the impact of the virus.
Meanwhile, Nestlé UK & Ireland revealed it was working with two trade unions, GMB and Unite, on the issues around employee safety, working conditions and maintaining supply.