The dispute involves engineers at the company’s factories in Kettering and Corby who have been issued with new contracts and work patterns.
Trade union, Unite, has accused Weetabix of ‘fire and rehire’ tactics, arguing that the new terms will result in major cuts in shift allowances.
Jacobs Douwe Egberts
The accusation echoes the one levelled by Unite against managers at Jacobs Douwe Egberts’s (JDE’s) coffee factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
According to Unite, the contracts issued at the Weetabix factories referred to require more day working than shift working and some of the affected engineers could lose up to £5,000 a year.
The union also expressed concerns over the health and safety of workers at both plants, arguing the proposals would result in lower numbers of engineers on duty at certain times.
The ballot for strike action opens on Thursday 27 May and closes on Thursday 3 June. If workers vote for strike action, then stoppages will begin later next month.
“Unite will not sit idly by and allow our members to be fired and rehired,” said Unite regional officer Sean Kettle.
“Our members play an essential role in keeping the Weetabix plants operating and to treat them in such an offhand manner in order to simply boost profits is disgraceful.”
Kettle also warned that strike action would disrupt the production of Weetabix and result in shortages in the shops.
"The solution is in Weetabix’s hands,” he added. “They need to withdraw the threat to fire and rehire our members and return to the negotiating table.”
A spokesperson for Weetabix Food Company said the new contracts were part of an ‘ongoing change programme’. They claimed management had been in ‘close consultation’ with employees and local union representatives to implement new ways of working.
"For nearly 90 years we have worked hard at Weetabix to remain competitive in our marketplace, and we have a responsibility to all of our teams to continue to do so,” said the spokesperson.
“We are proud to have recognised the efforts of all of our teams in keeping our factories open throughout the challenges of the last year.
“We were very happy to be able to share two discretionary bonuses with our manufacturing teams during that time."
Fire and rehire
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has spoken out over so-called ‘fire and rehire’ practices, which he said were ‘ripping through our workplaces like a disease’.
“Weak law lets bad bosses force through brutal changes to contracts, sometimes taking thousands of pounds off wages that families need to get by,” McCluskey added.
“It's a disgraceful practice that's outlawed in much of Europe and should be here.”