Food and drink workers set for more strike action

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The food and drink sector is facing more strike action
The food and drink sector is facing more strike action

Related tags Supply chain

A raft of further strike action is set to plague the food and drink sector as unions continue to call for better pay for staff in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis.

Bakkavor, Quorn, Budweiser and logistics companies Bestfood and GXO are the latest to face strike action over pay. 

More than 700 workers at Bakkavor’s food manufacturing factory in Spalding, Lincolnshire, are to strike from 1 November to 9 November.

Those on strike include production line operatives at the company who make own brand soups, sauces and deli produce for major supermarkets.  More strikes will be scheduled if the dispute is not resolved, the union Unite has said.  

The workers have rejected a 6.5% pay offer and are demanding a rise that reflects rising living costs.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Bakkavor is a hugely profitable company but is happy to cut workers’ wages during one of the worst economic crises in living memory. Our members are rightly angry that their employer, who can pay and should pay, is refusing to give them a fair slice of the pie. We will be supporting our members 100 per cent as they strike for a fair pay rise​.”

However, in a statement Bakkavor said: “Despite extensive pay negotiations and the involvement of ACAS, we are very disappointed that we have been unable to resolve the dispute as we believe we have proposed a pay award which is both competitive in the local market and sustainable for the Spalding business. We have been committed to resolving this as soon as possible so that the pay increases can be implemented, particularly given the cost-of-living pressures that our colleagues face.

“We have detailed contingency plans in place to ensure that we continue to serve our customers and that any disruption is kept to a minimum. We are fortunate to have the scale and flexibility of operations to support this.

“Our colleagues remain our priority and, against a backdrop of ongoing macro uncertainties and significant levels of inflation, we are focused on protecting jobs across our business.”

More than 60 workers at Quorn’s meat-free paste production factory will begin all-out strike action this Thursday (20 October) in a dispute over pay.  The striking workers include fermenter and chiller technicians, maintenance and laboratory staff and effluent treatment plant staff, the union said.

The workers, also members of union Unite, are taking further strike action over a 4% pay offer plus a one-off payment. The workers are seeking a 9%, which was the RPI inflation rate in April when negotiations began. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: The offer put forward by Quorn is a real-terms pay cut and completely unacceptable to Unite.”

A spokesperson for Quorn said: “We are disappointed that further industrial action is planned for this week, as we believe a 4% pay increase – worth over £2,000 per employee – plus a £1,000 bonus, is a fair and appropriate offer. We continue to hold discussions with our employees and their representatives with the aim of quickly reaching a resolution.

“We can confirm that during this industrial action, there has been no change to the high standards of Health & Safety at our Billingham manufacturing site, nor has there been any risk to the supply of Quorn to our customers."

Talks collapse

Meanwhile, ​hundreds of workers are on strike again at the Budweiser site in Salmesbury after talks collapsed. 

Worker are on strike until 7am on 22 October at the plant that brews Budweiser, Stella Artois, Becks, Boddingtons and Export Pale Ale.  

Stephen Boden, GMB organiser, said: ‘‘Workers are now on strike until Monday. This industrial action will impact all departments and shifts across the site and carries the risk of a Christmas beer drought.”

Budweiser Brewing Group (BBG) said that whilst there is not yet an agreement they continue to work toward a “mutually acceptable solution.”

Budweiser Brewing Group has a positive and long-standing relationship with the GMB, however despite open negotiations, the GMB have confirmed continued industrial action at our Samlesbury brewery. We are disappointed that the ACAS conciliation process has not been successful, and continue to work towards a solution​,” said a spokesperson from BBG. 

Our people are our greatest strength, and as such we are proud to offer a competitive package – wages in the Brewery are in the top 10% for the region and a range of benefits are provided including private medical cover, wellbeing allowance, access to the Verhelst Foundation to support physical and mental wellbeing, a ‘perks at work’ programme, product vouchers, opportunities for scholarship funds and bonuses.” 

BBG said it had made “significant investments” in Samlesbury which have resulted in further innovation and automation, additional skills development, promotions and many new job opportunities. 

The spokesperson added:  “We have a very dedicated and talented leadership team to support with the production of our much-loved beers and do not expect any beer shortages. We have implemented plans to ensure that supply has not been interrupted, including enhanced logistics measures and cooperation with transport partners to minimise the impact to customers and consumers.” 

Strike ballot

Meanwhile, almost 600 GMB members working for Bestfood, the logistics delivery company, will take part in a strike ballot after they rejected the company’s latest pay offer. 

The workers, who deliver fresh food to a range of restaurant chains, rejected a 6% pay offer.  The GMB Union said that 93% of members rejected the offer, with 85% indicating they wanted to be balloted formally for industrial action. Dates for the strike ballot will be announced in the coming days. 

“These workers bust a gut to deliver fresh, just in time food to some of the biggest names in the business,” ​said ​Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer.

Bestfood’s parent companies Booker and Tesco are making incredibly healthy profits and paying large dividends, while leaving these workers crushed by cost of living.”

A Best Food Logistics spokesperson said: “Best Food Logistics provides colleagues with a competitive and comprehensive reward package, and we are committed to a constructive dialogue with our colleagues and GMB to reach a way forward.  We will be working closely with our customers to ensure they can continue to get the products they need and remain actively engaged with GMB to reach a positive outcome for our colleagues and customers.”​ 

Also 1,000 GXO draymen are to strike which could impact beer deliveries. Unite has claimed they have rejected a 5% pay offer and a reduction in sick pay. However, GXO said that its statement is “inaccurate” as the current proposal is for an average 9.2% increase with no impact on sick pay. 

The first round of strikes will take place between 31 October and 4 November ​at depots across the UK while a continuous overtime ban will also begin on 24 October​Industrial action will take place at GXO sites in Coventry, Avonmouth, Norwich, Greenford, Dagenham, Croydon, Faversham, Thatcham, Southampton, Livingston, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dumfries, Ivybridge, Swansea, Anglesey, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle, Washington and Wakefield. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "GXO can easily afford to pay fairly and Unite is determined to see that they do. Our members have the union’s absolute support in taking strike action for a fair pay rise.” 

A GXO spokesperson said: “The current proposal is for an average 9.2% increase and does not impact sick pay. The offer is highly competitive and follows an above-inflation annual pay raise of 4% last year. The increase exceeds the industry average and in every region, earnings for our drivers are above both the regional and national averages.  

“We are in constant contact with our customers and should a strike go ahead, we have business continuity plans in place to ensure they are adequately stocked and minimise impact on consumers.”

This follows other news that HGV drivers employed by Wincanton, on ASDA’s outsourced contract are balloting for strike action over pay. And strike action has been announced at Mizkan Euro in Middleton, Rochdale, which produces a range of pickles for major brands. 

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