Allied Bakeries drivers are being balloted for strike action that could bring a “bread drought” to the north west and Midlands, according to union Unite.
Kingsmill producer Allied is facing the threat of a strike by 130 members of Unite – including drivers, maintenance staff and security personnel – in a row over drivers’ pay at its West Bromwich bakery.
Allied today (13 November) told British Baker that, should industrial action go ahead, it was confident it could still deliver fresh bread to all its grocery retail customers.
“We have robust contingency plans in place, and are changing a number of delivery routes to mitigate the risk of any disruption,” said the company.
Unite members are being balloted this week over what the union has described as “a paltry pay offer”. The ballot closes in two weeks (Monday 27 November).
The union has claimed West Bromwich drivers are earning less than drivers working at Allied’s Stockport depot, and less than those working for Sainsbury’s and logistics firm Culina.
“In some cases, the differential is as much as £14,000-a-year, which is totally unacceptable,” said Unite food sector lead officer Joe Clarke, adding that Allied had offered West Bromwich drivers a 2% pay rise, plus £150 for the year starting April 2017 and the same offer for the year starting April 2018.
“This paltry pay deal is far below the current rate of inflation. Our members want a fair offer that reflects the cost of living.”
Allied said it had been discussing pay agreements with delivery drivers and their union representatives at West Bromwich since May.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t yet come to a settlement and are naturally disappointed the union has now decided to initiate a ballot of their members at the site for industrial action,” added the company. “As a responsible and respected local employer we are always open to discussion with our employees.”
Clarke said a strike could cause “havoc” to bread deliveries to supermarkets such as Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, across the north west and the Midlands.
“You will have a situation where loaves will be coming off the production lines, but no one will be delivering them.”
Allied Bakeries parent company Associated British Foods (ABF) last week revealed the bakery business sustained a loss in the year ending 16 September, and that it was discussing increasing prices with its retail customers.
Like many bakers, Allied has come under intense pressure from low retail pricing and has been impacted by rising wheat costs.
“A difficult trading environment in the UK bread market led to a decline in revenues at Allied Bakeries and it sustained a loss,” stated ABF. “We are continuing to invest in our brands and are working closely with our customers to improve the profitability of our bakery business.”
In September, Allied Bakeries announced plans to close its Norwich distribution depot, stating the investment needed to modernise the buildings and infrastructure would not provide sufficient return.