The union is disputing the company’s use of agency workers at its Northampton site, which is one of the largest employers in the area.
The Government’s Job Retention Scheme guarantees 80% of a worker’s wage for the duration of their furlough. This currently means Greencore’s furloughed workers, including more than 600 BFAWU members, are being paid below the minimum wage, according to the union. However, it claims the agency workers Greencore is recruiting are being paid substantially more than the minimum wage.
Such practices are deemed unfair by the union and against the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code.
BFAWU regional officer George Atwell told Food Manufacture that Greencore’s decision to hire agency staff was likely to lead to a walkout by the union’s members in response.
“We’ve got 650-plus furloughed workers below the minimum wage and the company has called the agency, even though from the first of August they can bring in staff on flexible furlough,” he continued. “Our workers are below the minimum wage, yet the agency is paying their workers £12–£13 an hour.
“Our members have been sitting since March below the minimum wage and the next minute it’s a kick in the teeth. We’ve told Greencore to bring back our members first before any agency come on site, but they’ve overridden that decision.”
Atwell said a formal grievance had been raised with Greencore and that the union was meeting with the employer today to further discuss the issue at hand.
‘Blatant breaches of the code’
He added: “We’re not prepared to sit back and allow blatant breaches of the ETI code, which is there to protect workers from exploitation. BFAWU is now making a formal complaint to the ETI board.”
However, Greencore said the decision to bring in agency workers was a matter of urgency to meet an unexpected surge in demand that would not have been met if it had been forced to rely on bringing back employees on furlough.
A spokesman for the manufacturer said: “Given the time-sensitive nature of the customer’s request, the need to swiftly increase headcount was partly met by the mobilisation of resources from our longstanding agency partner.
“Furloughed colleagues have also been invited back to work on a flexible basis and we have had a positive response to this invitation, helped in-part by the BFAWU’s social media appeal. As demand continues to recover and strengthen, we intend to bring back colleagues in line with demand, and in a capacity that is compatible with colleagues’ parental and domestic responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, Greencore has restarted production at a number of its sites across the UK, as it reported the impact of coronavirus on its sales in its third-quarter financial results.