Weetabix workers joined by Unite leader on Burton Latimer picket line

The engineers will strike two days a week

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 11:37 am

Striking workers at Burton Latimer's Weetabix factory have been joined on their picket line by a union leader today (Wednesday) in their fight against a ‘fire and rehire’ policy.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham joined Weetabix factory engineers who are striking over a move that would slash wages and conditions.

The workers, based at the company’s factories in Burton Latimer and Corby, face changes to their shift and working patterns that would result in some engineers losing as much as £5,000 from their yearly earnings.

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Sean Kettle (front left) with Sharon Graham and Unite members outside the Weetabix factory in Burton Latimer

Today a Unite member based at the Burton Latimer factory said: "They are trying to change our shift patterns from Monday to Friday to a 24/7. They have forced people onto days with poor ts and cs. If they can't do days they are being put on 24/7. If they can't do those they are in a limbo.

"They offered redundancies. People put in for redundancy and then they withdrew it.

"The morale is down. I always believed that a happy workforce is a productive workforce."

Unite say 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. Weetabix say they are confident they can avoid disruption to supplies.

Unite members outside the Burton Latimer factory with union boss Sharon Graham

Ms Graham said: “Unite is there to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of its members. This is a totally unjustifiable assault on workers’ wages and conditions. Last year Weetabix’s profits went up by almost 20 per cent to more than £81m. Where is the justification for their brutal fire and rehire ultimatum?”

Workers 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.

Unite has begun a series of 48-hour strikes on the same day every week throughout the autumn with the final strike scheduled to begin on Tuesday, November 30.

Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said: "We are wishing to have dialogue with the company. 82 per cent rejected the amended offer. There are a large number who are resisting the offer.

Unite are campaigning against 'fire and re-hire'

"The support we have had is absolutely fantastic and what we would expect."

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.

Earlier this month 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.

Sharon Graham speaking to Unite members

“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."

Workers walk with their banner to meet members