Union says staff at Wellingborough food manufacturer deserve more than the 'pittance' they're being paid

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Unite says the pandemic is exposing how essential workers crucial to the supply and production of food have been underpaid and poorly treated for too long

Unite is calling on a multi-million pound food manufacturer with a Wellingborough site to get its act together over pay and sickness.

Pioneer Foods manufactures cereals for supermarkets including Aldi, Asda, M&S, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

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The South African-owned company has a turnover of more than £71 million in the UK, according to its latest accounts.

Pioneer Foods has a factory on Wellingborough's Finedon Road Industrial EstatePioneer Foods has a factory on Wellingborough's Finedon Road Industrial Estate
Pioneer Foods has a factory on Wellingborough's Finedon Road Industrial Estate | other

However, most workers at its Wellingborough and Peterborough sites normally earn the minimum wage and are only entitled to the government's statutory sick pay scheme.

The company temporarily increased its production workers' pay by £1 an hour during the health crisis, but Unite is demanding that this increase should be made permanent.

Unite is also demanding that Pioneer Foods, which has a factory on Wellingborough's Finedon Road Industrial Estate, introduces a proper sick pay scheme which gives workers full sick pay from day one.

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The union has received reports of production workers alleging they are having to use their holiday entitlements while off sick.

Unite regional officer Adam Oakes said: "Pioneer Foods is a multi-million pound company which is paying essential workers a pittance.

"The current Covid-19 crisis is exposing how essential workers crucial to the supply and production of food have been underpaid and poorly treated for too long.

“Earning around the minimum wage is not good enough.

"Allegations that some workers are using holiday entitlements to cover their costs while off sick is a serious concern, particularly in the current circumstances.

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"Essential workers must be able to afford life's essentials, like putting food on the table and paying the bills.

"They also need a proper sick pay scheme from day one or when a worker must self-isolate.

"The temporary pay increase for workers at Pioneer Foods must now be made permanent."

Workers have already sent the company 'letters of concern' which have led to improvements including new hand washing stations, metal screens between packers, visual marks for social distancing as well as more space for workers to have lunch while keeping an acceptable social distance.

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The Northants Telegraph contacted the company and a spokesman for Pioneer Foods UK said: "At Pioneer Foods, our top priorities are the health and safety of our employees, as well as maintaining the highest level of service to our consumers and customers.

"We are proud to be considered an essential service during this difficult time, and in recognition of our employees outstanding commitment to maintaining our business, we increased our standard pay rate during the lockdown period.

"Subsequently we agreed to maintain this increased period during the extension of the lockdown period being imposed by the UK Government.

"We independently conduct regular benchmarking exercises in terms of pay scale, and hence we are confident that the compensation we offer compares favourably with that of our industry peers.

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"While ensuring the well-being of our employees, it is also critical that we maintain business continuity at a time when the global economy is severely impaired.

"For that reason, and to ensure the ongoing employment of our entire workforce, we are unable to consider implementing this increase on a permanent basis."

With regards to production workers alleging they are having to use their holiday entitlements while off sick, the spokesman added: "Our existing policy on sickness pay stands in line with employment contracts, however as an additional benefit during this time, we have allowed employees to take paid leave instead, if they wish.

"This is entirely optional if needed."

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