More than 800 workers at a United Biscuits’ Jacob’s factory are to strike following a dispute over sick pay.
Strike action at the Aintree, Liverpool plant will take place between now and Christmas after talks on Monday between workers’ union GMB and UB failed to reach a compromise to prevent action. Six strike days are reported to be in the offing, with workers due to walk out as early as this Sunday and Monday (23 and 24 November), and four more due to take place before Christmas.
Stuart Fegan, GMB national officer for the food manufacturing industry, has said the company was trying to impose a solution to high absence levels at the plant without first agreeing the changes with the workforce.
He told the Liverpool Echo that strike action could affect the production of Jacob’s crackers in the run up to Christmas. He said: “They have failed to produce a resolution. We will be publishing strike dates later today.
“We are very angry. Our best endeavours to engage with management to find a resolution have not been reciprocated.”
Fegan has also said that ‘illegal’ changes are being made at the factory. He continued: “United Biscuits has pressed ahead with unilateral and illegal changes to terms and conditions of our members. GMB has been organising with our sister trade unions in the UK to resist the threatened outsourcing of products away from the Aintree site. This has been supported by our European sister unions.
“The United Biscuit management must be ‘crackers’ to think the workforce at Aintree, who have made a massive contribution to the profits of United Biscuits and for the last 100 years, would lie down without a fight.”
United biscuits has hit back at claims made by the GMB workers union, saying that it ‘does not recognise’ its account of events which have led to the strike.
It also says that it will continue to try to make negotiations with the workers, to avoid strike action.
A spokesperson for the biscuit company told British Baker: "United Biscuits does not recognise the account of events attributed to Mr Fegan, but nevertheless remains absolutely committed to working with the GMB to resolve this matter and avert a strike that can only damage the long term prospects for quality jobs at the site. Discussions are currently continuing.
“What we are talking about is the introduction of a modernised absence management system which simply requires anyone who needs to take sickness absence to call their line manager to alert them of their absence, and to get a note from their GP after three days of sickness leave This new process will mean improvements in sick pay for over 85% of Aintree staff. No employee is in any way worse off in relation to the proposals being discussed. Casual absence at Aintree is running at 8%, the highest levels we’ve seen since 2006 and three times the national average.
“The other key issue at the heart of this dispute is over some changes to a two-week Christmas shut down which was agreed in principle with GMB representatives in May of this year. The GMB is demanding that the original factory shut down be reinstated which is 19th December to 5th January, for a fully paid two week break. The latter demand has been made in the full knowledge that such a shutdown would seriously impact the Company’s ability to satisfy customer requirements over the peak season.
"United Biscuits is reserving the right to flex the factory operating up until the afternoon of Christmas Eve on those lines where necessary, recommencing full production on the 5th January. This still gives staff a substantial break over the festive period.
“We remain hopeful that further discussions this week will be able to resolve both matters.”