A Heineken UK spokeswoman said: “Over the last few years, we’ve been undertaking an investment journey in our production sites and in our people in the UK to ensure we’re building a brewing organisation fit for the future. As part of this, we have initiated a comprehensive review of our employment policies and reward packages to ensure that they are attractive for colleagues, sustainable for future growth and aligned to market practices.
“To address differences in employment terms at our Hereford site, we have been in extensive negotiations with Unite the Union for over a year regarding proposals to align with the modern pay structure and practices which we operate across the wider business.
“During this dialogue, the company has revised its proposals and developed a comprehensive set of packages to support the transition of colleagues onto new contracts, enabling them to have a choice of options depending on their individual circumstances. We are obviously disappointed not to have been able to secure an agreement and that a ballot has been rejected locally. We had hoped the mitigations would ensure a fair resolution, agreeable to all."
Collective bargaining and arbitration
She said the company had exhausted collective bargaining, including arbitration through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). It was now discussing the company’s offer with colleagues so they could decide the way forward individually. "We had been transparent about the fact that this would be the next step, which is in line with the terms of our Collective Agreement.
“We are hoping that colleagues will accept the changes which for many will be beneficial. We recognise that some colleagues may find the changes difficult and we will of course listen to their concerns before starting a consultation process on a proposal to serve notice on their current terms and offer them the new package.
“We value our relationship with Unite and are therefore disappointed at their call for industrial action. However, it is our firm belief that for the long-term success of the business, we need a consistent pay structure in Hereford that is fit for the future and is fair to all colleagues.”
Huge pay reductions
Unite claims Heineken plans to 'fire and rehire' staff at the factory, where the organisation has more than 200 members, on contracts that would result in huge pay reductions for many workers. As a result, staff are set to lose thousands of pounds in pay and benefits.
The hardest hit staff would be those affected by changes to retirement rundown benefits, while Heineken also plans to cancel Sunday shift premiums, cut holiday pay and change flexible working terms and conditions, said Unite.
“Heineken’s SAS ultimatum to its Hereford staff has shocked the workforce, who have worked hard throughout the pandemic ensuring the company kept bringing money in," Unite national officer Joe Clarke said. “Many staff stand to lose a massive amount of their wage packets and fear that they will be unable to pay the bills if these plans go through.
“Staff are preparing to battle these changes with everything they’ve got. What else are they supposed to do when faced with losing their financial security after years of dedicated service? Unite and Heineken have had a good relationship for many years, but the company should be in no doubt that the union will do everything in its power to stop these attacks on our members’ contracts.
“A consultative ballot for strike action has been launched and Unite will continue to mobilise against these changes through legal channels and the industrial action process until the company’s retracts this outrageous sack and sign ultimatum.”
Unite regional coordinating officer Simon Powell, who has been leading the negotiations on behalf of the union, said: “Throughout the negotiations, which have taken place over a long period of time, Heineken’s management have adopted an aggressive approach and tried to ride roughshod over many of the workforce’s employment terms.
“Instead of offering conditions that are completely unacceptable to our members, we urge Heineken to get back around the table and seek agreement on this for the good of all concerned.”