Weetabix urged to stop 'mistreating workers' as more strike action called at Burton Latimer and Corby

A union says it will lead to shortages of Weetabix and other popular products

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 9:18 pm
Weetabix, Burton Latimer

Another strike has been called by Weetabix workers in Burton Latimer and Corby who are furious about a plan to offer workers vastly inferior contracts.

Engineers who are part of trade union Unite are set to walk out later this month over changes to their shift and working patterns, which would result in some workers being up to £5,000 a year worse off.

They had previously called off a strike at a day's notice in June to allow for negotiations. New proposals were later put to the workers but were rejected by 82 per cent in a ballot, leading to more industrial action.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Unite will now begin a series of 48-hour strikes on Tuesday, September 21, followed by strikes on the same day every week throughout the autumn with the final strike scheduled to begin on Tuesday, November 30.

The union says the strikes will cause widespread delays to production and lead to shortages of Weetabix and other popular products made at the factories including Alpen, Weetos and Oatibix.

Unite 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.”

Last month Alpen bar workers at Weetabix's Burton Latimer factory walked out in separate industrial action, called by union Usdaw, in a row about pay.

That dispute has now been settled after Weetabix reinstated a 27.5 per cent shift pay premium and 82 per cent of workers voted to accept the firm's offer.

But in a public row over their members' contracts, Unite is warning that consumers will lose their appetites for a product produced by a highly profitable company like Weetabix which then attacks workers' wages.

They say Weetabix has performed very strongly since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. It returned a net turnover of $440m, a 5.3 per cent increase, with profits of $112.3m, an 18.5 per cent increase. Owners US cereal giant Post Holdings Inc most recent accounts show it had a turnover of $5.7bn, an operating profit of $700.8m and $1.2bn in cash.

Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said: “Unite has made it clear from the outset that our 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.

“It is deeply disappointing that despite Weetabix’s staggering wealth that it was not prepared to make an offer than our members could accept.

“Strike action will inevitably lead to a disruption in production and shortages of Weetabix and the company’s other products will quickly follow.

“Weetabix is the UK’s favourite cereal but consumers are bound to quickly lose their appetite for the product when they learn it is made by mistreated workers.

“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.

“Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards.”

A Weetabix Food Company spokesman said: “To continue meeting the expectations of our customers and consumers, it’s important that our ways of working evolve. As a business, we continue to invest in our people, plants, and products.

“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."