Jacob’s strike on at United Biscuits plant

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Strike action, Trade union

The Aintree factory makes Jacob's Cream Crackers
The Aintree factory makes Jacob's Cream Crackers
United Biscuits’ (UB’s) Jacob’s factory faces a six-day strike, starting this Sunday (November 23), after last-minute talks to resolve a dispute over sick pay and outsourcing collapsed.

Workers at the factory, which makes products such as Jacob’s Cream Crackers and Club chocolate biscuit, will strike from 7am November 23 to 7am November 25.

The other dates will be: 7am December 3 to 7am December 4; 7am December 6 to 7am December 7 and 7am December 14 to 7am December 16.

A majority of GMB trade union members at the plant at Aintree in Liverpool voted in favour of the move in an official strike ballot that closed on October 30.

“Regrettably last ditch talks failed, so it looks inevitable that there will be stoppages of work from this weekend,”​ said Stuart Fegan, GMB national officer for the food manufacturing industry.

Fegan said the workforce had been driven to the industrial action by a management culture of disrespect and bullying.

“This has to come to an end,” ​he added. “There will be no constructive progress in the relationship between the workforce and management until this fundamental issue is resolved.

‘Believes it can threaten’

“The latest acts of withdrawing sick pay, transferring work from Liverpool to Poland and demands for people to work over Christmas are just the most recent instances in a management culture which believes it can threaten its way to a submissive workforce.”

UB said in a statement it was “disappointed”​ the strikes would go ahead. It claimed they posed “a significant threat to the future of the site over some truly minor changes in existing and planned working practices”.

“To be clear, 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.”

Unsustainable’

Casual absence at Aintree was running at 8%, it said – the highest levels it had seen since 2006 and three to four times the national average. As a result, at any given time, one in 12 of the workforce at Aintree was off sick, costing the company 16,000 days a year, which was “unsustainable”​.

“The other key issue at the heart of this dispute is 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 December 19 to January 5, for a fully paid two week break.

“The GMB knows 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 January 5.  This still gives staff a substantial break over the festive period. Contrary to the statement by the GMB, nobody is being asked to work over Christmas.”

The firm said it needed to lessen the impact of the shut-down. “We have therefore initiated a full contingency plan which includes preparing sourcing from other UB sites, ensuring we have effective stock cover and preparing outsourcing of products to third parties both in the UK and elsewhere.”

It had to introduce more modern practices at the factory in order to safeguard its continued operation. It also criticised the GMB for not providing a clear, written explanation for strike action, but stressed it remained open to further dialogue.

Related topics: Manufacturers, Yildiz Holding, Biscuits

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