Engineers employed at Weetabix factories are set to begin a series of two-day strikes this month in a dispute over what their trade union describes as a fire-and-rehire proposals that will result in some being as much as £5,000 per year worse off.
Unite members based at the company’s factories in Kettering and Corby in Northamptonshire say they face being dismissed and re-engaged on new contracts that change shifts and working patterns. Weetabix denied it was considering a “fire and rehire” approach.
Strike action was originally scheduled for June but was postponed to allow for in-depth talks with management. Those talks led to new proposals, but these were rejected by 82% of members in a consultative ballot
Unite said it will begin a series of 48-hour strikes on Tuesday 21 September on a weekly basis throughout the autumn with the final strike scheduled for 30 November.
General secretary Sharon Graham said: “The idea of ‘fire and rehire’ is abhorrent to me. If Weetabix decide to go down this route and they overstep the line then I will absolutely defend our members.”
The industrial action is likely to cause production delays and could lead to shortages of Weetabix cereal and other products including Alpen, Weetos and Oatibix.
Fire and rehire
Weetabix returned a net turnover of $440 million (£319 million) in 2020, a 5.3% increase, with profits of $112 million, an 18.5% rise. US parent company Post Holdings’ most recent accounts show it had a turnover of $5.7bn and an operating profit of $700 million.
Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said the union had made it clear from the outset that its members will not accept being fired and rehired with large cuts to their pay and conditions.
“Unite has acted responsibly from the beginning of this dispute and called off industrial action for three months to seek an agreement,” he said. “It is deeply disappointing that despite Weetabix’s staggering wealth that it was not prepared to make an offer that our members could accept.”
He added: “Industrial action can still be avoided but it will require Weetabix to withdraw its plans to fire and rehire its engineers and to put forward a realistic offer to our members.”
A Weetabix Food Company spokesperson said: “We’re naturally disappointed by the result of the Unite ballot, but respect the voice of our workforce and their representatives. Our success over nearly 90 years has been built on a strong relationship with our workforce. We will remain in dialogue with them and are confident that we can avoid any product supply disruption while we implement the new ways of working necessary to keep us competitive.
“It is unfair and inaccurate to compare this with other disputes that require new contracts to be signed or face dismissal; this is not a choice we’re considering at present.”