The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) is at loggerheads with Premier Foods over its decision to use agency staff at its Hovis factory in Cale Lane, Wigan.

Geoff Atkinson, organising regional secretary (Manchester/Merseyside region), at the BFAWU, told British Baker there had been a number of redundancies at the site in the early part of this year, but that agency staff were then bought in in April.

Atkinson said: “We were told they (Premier) didn’t need to consult on the use of agency staff.” He issued a ballot notice at that site for industrial action, before the company entered into a four-week consultation period. “However there was no agreement reached at the end of that time,” he said, adding that Premier said they would continue to use agency labour.

He said that Premier and the BFAWU has also tried working with ACAS to come to a resolution, but that it had been “fruitless”.

The agency staff are employed on zero-hour contracts and qualify for the same rates of pay as full-time permanent staff said Aktinson. “Workers had already agreed to decrease their hours in order to protect permanent jobs, which took them back to a salary they were earning 10-15 years ago.” Despite this he said there had still been 26 redundancies at the site.

“We have been tolerant and very flexible. We understand Premier is in a bad place, but this is purely a cost exercise. Some employees have worked there for 40 years, and if there is work available, it should be offered to permanent staff. We are trying to protect local jobs in the local community,” he said.

A spokeperson for Premier Foods claimed: “There is no threat or detriment to the current Wigan workforce as a result of this proposal.”

He said: “To deal with fluctuations in demand, we now want to introduce the option of agency labour to Wigan. Using agency is widespread across the food industry and nothing unusual.

“We have been talking to the trade union (BFAWU) about this for some time and we will continue to talk to them to try to come to a satisfactory outcome.”

One hundred-and-sixty-six workers rejected Premier’s proposals for agency labour in a ballot which finished at the end of July, with 11 accepting the offer, and one spoiled ballot paper. Forty-four people didn’t vote.

A postal ballot for industrial action will take place from tomorrow (6 August), and will run until 20 August.