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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

by New Worker correspondent

YES, IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas – but for many workers the season of goodwill counts for little on the pay front.

Biscuits, Pickles and Sauces

The risk to supplies of one particularly essential foodstuff was averted last Friday when 36 engineers at the Fox’s biscuit factory in Batley, Yorkshire accepted an improved pay offer. They had planned to so on a strike just after Guy Fawkes night, but it was suspended at the last minute when talks at the conciliation service ACAS saw Management come up with a new offer of 13.5 per cent, which has now been accepted.

The deal ensures that the workers will get a 13.5 per cent pay increase with 6.5 per cent pay increase backdated to 1 April for this year and a seven per cent increase for next year. The previous offer was less than half this.

Additionally, workers will see the number of days they have to wait before getting sick pay reduced from two days to one, and it is being extended from the present eight weeks to 10. As a minor bonus they get a £100 one off payment for accepting the offer.

strong sense

Chris Rawlinson, a Unite regional officer, said “the dispute has built a strong sense of solidarity among our members”. He warned bosses that: “The union will be building on this victory in future pay negotiations and will also seek to secure formal recognition for our members at the company.”

Unite announced on Monday that it had secured an 11 per pay rise for 150 workers at the Heinz factory at Telford in Shropshire. The rise, which was secured without any industrial action, is at a plant that produces condiments sachets.

Joe Clarke, one of the union’s officers, said: “Our Telford Heinz members have been through a difficult couple of years, with many being furloughed during the pandemic. Since then, they have made numerous efficiency improvements to the site and so sorely deserved a proper pay rise, which Unite has secured.”

Earlier Unite secured a slightly larger rise of 11.5 per cent for 700 workers at Princes Group at Glasgow, Bradford, Cardiff and Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, again without recourse to industrial action. Hopefully this is a sign that bosses are worried about taking on their organised workforce, but it could also be a sign that they have so much money in the bank that they can easily afford to pay up. Princes Group is owned by the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation, which includes traditional English foods Crosse & Blackwell and the Italian Napolina brand.

real deal

The details of the deal are that workers will get a seven per cent pay rise backdated to April 2022 and a £750 one-off payment; but Unite say the pay rise is worth 11 per cent because the company has also agreed to commence 2023’s pay talks in January and to establish a national staff forum for future negotiations.

Joe Clarke said: “Unite leads the way in securing excellent pay awards for workers in food manufacturing and other sectors. This deal was achieved through the excellent solidarity of our Princes reps and members. It is yet another example of why those looking to better their wages and working conditions should join Unite and get their colleagues to do the same.”

Still to receive a decent offer despite twice taking strike action are those at the Mizkan Euro factory at Rochdale. Fifty workers there had three days of strike action in late October and again on 3–5 November. At present they are paid as little as £11.50 per hour.

The factory makes Branston Pickle, Sarsons Vinegar and Haywards Pickled Vegetables, and is part of the Mizkan Group, which is the largest sushi seasoning company in the world.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members at Mizkan Euro are vital to the success of its brands such as Branston Pickle. The company can fully afford to pay its workers fairly but is avoiding doing so in order to boost its profits. It is totally unacceptable that Mizkan Euro thinks it can get away without paying its workers a decent pay increase. Our members will continue to receive Unite’s unswerving support.”

Unite regional officer Andrena Clarke added that: “The initial strike action caused a substantial reduction in the production of key brands and the fresh strike action will increase shortages on supermarket shelves. Mizkan Euro should stop prevaricating and make its workers a fair pay offer.”

Completely Crackers

Aintree in Liverpool is best known for being the home of the sport of kings, but it is also the home of a Jacob’s Cream Crackers factory where workers have walked out indefinitely over an ongoing pay dispute.

This drastic action began on Monday, but the dispute has been brewing for some time, with limited industrial action starting in September.

At the start of the present action, Eamon O’Hearn, GMB national officer, said: “These workers are rightly angry. They put themselves on the line to keep the company going during the pandemic. Now they need some help to get them through the cost-of-living crisis.”

The union accused owner Pladis of shifting the production of the Cream Crackers to Portugal in a bid to undermine the strike.

Of Pladis’s refusal to make a decent offer simply to meet inflation, O’Hearn added: “This kind of naked corporate greed in the run up to Christmas is disgraceful. Jacob’s workers will now be on strike 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the company comes back to the negotiating table.”

Pladis, which also owns the United and McVitie’s brands, and recently closed a factory in the east end of Glasgow, claimed they were open to talks.

Redundancy Battles

Relief, rather than celebration, would have been the mood of the workers at chicken firm Moy Park, whose plant near Ashbourne in Derbyshire has been under threat of closure. The plant, which manufactures chicken products for both Nando’s and McDonalds, will now see another 175 jobs being created. Mick Coppin, a GMB Organiser, said of the announcement: “GMB has been negotiating and campaigning to save jobs at Moy Park for months. To see management sit up and listen to our members’ demands is fantastic. Potential job losses on the scale feared would have been catastrophic for the local community, and GMB union members should be proud that they have delivered this win.”

close them

At two food plants owned by Icelandic company Bakkavor at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire and Leicester, 900 workers are facing redundancy because the owners plan to close them and consolidate production at their other UK sites due to a “challenging macro-economic backdrop”.

Wiping away his crocodile tears, a company spokesperson said: “As a business that invests in the development of its people, rewards long service and invests in the local communities in which we operate, it is with great sadness that this difficult but necessary business decision may impact a number of our colleagues.”

Earlier this month 700 factory workers at another Lincolnshire Bakkover site, this time in Spalding, walked out in protest over “poverty pay” that in many cases is a mere penny above the national minimum wage, and have rejected as inadequate a 6.5 per cent pay offer. They are demanding a rise that reflects rising living costs.

Noting that Bakkavor’s reported adjusted operating profits for 2021 rose by 22 per cent to £102 million earlier this year, 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.”

monster profits

Regional officer Ravinder Assi added: “The company’s refusal to provide a reasonable offer despite its monster profits should be a wake-up call for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and M&S. Quite frankly, they should be ashamed that workers making products that bear their brands are being treated so disgracefully. Bakkavor must put forward an offer our members can accept and the supermarkets should be pressuring the company into doing so.”

Spiritual Matters

Not all disputes in the food and drink sector are about rising wages. There is an ongoing struggle against a wages cut (in money terms and not just in real terms) at Diageo’s bottling plant at Leven in Fife, where both Gordon’s Gin and Smirnoff are poured into their green and transparent bottles.

Engineers have voted for strike action over imposed changes to shift patterns that will result in a cut in shifts for weekend engineers and effectively lower their wages.

Unite say that weekend engineering support workers for the bottling plant based in Leven, Fife have already had their pay slashed by eight per cent for the last three years, getting less than others doing the same job.

Unite warns it would be dangerous to run the plant without any engineering support.

deny and admit

Diageo Management deny they are only cutting the number of night shifts for weekend staff at the plant but admit wages for new starters have been reduced.

Sharon Graham said: “It is totally unacceptable for Diageo, an employer who made £4.4 billion profit this year which equates to a profit of £156,377 per employee to try to cut our members pay by stealth, introducing a new pay scale without consulting unions. This behaviour is even more shocking given that our members are living through the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.”

hell bent

Regional officer Bob Macgregor added: “Diageo is hell bent on dragging down the wages of its workers. This is morally disgusting at any time but during a cost-of-living crisis with the lowest paid workers making a choice between heating their homes or feeding their families, it is contemptible.”

He also pointed out that: “We have tried for years to get this reviewed. Workers have already lost out on a fair pay rate since 2019. ACAS requires disputes to be dealt with in a timely manner but after years, we are still fighting for fair pay, terms and conditions.”