Weetabix shortages threatened as industrial action looms

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Unite is to hold industrial action at two Weetabix sites in Northamptonshire
Unite is to hold industrial action at two Weetabix sites in Northamptonshire

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Workers union Unite has threatened national shortages of Weetabix products as a result of industrial action at the manufacturer’s Northamptonshire sites.

About 80 employees at the company’s factories in Kettering and Corby will take part in a series of one day strikes during June, July and August over what the union calls ‘fire and rehire plans’.

The union claimed that the new contracts would result in major cuts in shift allowances, with affected engineers set to lose £5,000 a year. Other concerns were raised surrounding health and safety at the site, due to a lower number of engineers who would be on duty at certain times.

The spat between Weetabix and Unite coincides with disputes between the union and a small number of food and drink manufacturers since last year about so-called ‘fire and rehire’ tactics.

Jacobs Douwe Egberts and Hovis

Strikes have been held at Jacobs Douwe Egberts’ production site in Banbury since April, after the coffee maker announced proposals to dismiss and re-engage staff – a consultation which ended this week.

Meanwhile, last month, Hovis shot down demands for an ‘unsustainable’ pay rise at its Belfast plant​, as workers unions warned a planned strike would cause shortages of its products across Northern Ireland.

Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said: “Our members are well aware that these fire and rehire attacks are simply an opportunistic response to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

‘Unacceptable behaviour’

“They are incensed at the company’s unacceptable behaviour, which is especially galling given their pivotal role in keeping Weetabix’s plants operating during the worst of the pandemic.”

Kettle said that industrial action would be prevented if Weetabix withdraws its ‘fire and rehire’ threats and engaged in ‘constructive negotiations’ with Unite’s representatives.

Weetabix said that the change in shift working patterns was needed in order for the business to evolve. A spokesman for the manufacturer that it was disappointed by the result of the reported ballot from Unite, but it respected their decision to take industrial action.

“Our success over nearly 90 years is built on a strong relationship with our workforce,” ​they added. “We will remain in close consultation with them and are confident that together we can avoid any product shortages while we implement necessary new ways of working to keep us competitive for the next 90 years and beyond.”

Related topics People & Skills Ambient foods

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