Weetabix workers at its Northamptonshire factory have announced walkouts this month in opposition to the company’s plans to fire and rehire them on vastly inferior contracts.
A series of 48-hour strikes will take place on September 21 followed by strikes on the same day every week throughout the autumn with the final strike scheduled to begin on November 30.
The strikes will cause widespread delays to production and lead to shortages of Weetabix and other products made at the factories including Alpen, Weetos and Oatibix.
The action comes as workers at the breakfast cereals Kettering and Corby sites face changes to their shift and working patterns, which would result in some workers being up to £5000 a year worse off, according to trade union Unite.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the “idea of ‘fire and rehire’ is abhorrent”.
“If Weetabix decides to go down this route and they overstep the line then I will absolutely defend our members,” she said.
Despite industrial action initially being scheduled for June, it was postponed to allow for in-depth talks with the employer.
Those talks led to new proposals being put to the workers but were “overwhelmingly rejected” by 82 per cent in a consultative ballot.
Unite warns that consumers will lose their appetites for a product produced by a highly profitable company like Weetabix which then attacks workers’ wages.
Weetabix revealed it had returned a net turnover of $440 million since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a 5.3 per cent increase, with profits of $112.3 million, an 18.5 per cent increase.
“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 regional officer Sean Kettle said.
“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.”
Kettle added: “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.”
A spokesperson told Grocery Gazette: “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.”