Union calls one day strike at Premier Foods but company says it has ignored two pay options

By John Elworthy WORKERS from Lithuania, Poland and Portugal will be among those taking part in a 24 hour stoppage at Premier Foods, Wisbech, on Wednesday in a dispute over pay. Britain s biggest union, Unite, says around 80 per cent of the company s 470

By John Elworthy

WORKERS from Lithuania, Poland and Portugal will be among those taking part in a 24 hour stoppage at Premier Foods, Wisbech, on Wednesday in a dispute over pay.

Britain's biggest union, Unite, says around 80 per cent of the company's 470 work force are expected to join the stoppage with further walk-outs already planned.

However the company disputes the likely number of workers joining the strike and today pledged to work towards "a negotiated settlement".


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A company spokesman said: "We are disappointed that Unite has chosen to initiate industrial action without asking members to consider our latest offer of two possible options to secure a long term pay deal."

"The factory will remain open on Wednesday for anyone who chooses to come in to work. Unite does not have the support of a majority of the Wisbech workforce for this action and we believe their ballot for industrial action is no longer relevant given the significantly improved position as a result of our negotiations. "

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"We remain committed to reaching a negotiated settlement."

Mark Plumb, the Lynn Road factory convenor for Unite, said: "To my knowledge this will be the first official dispute at Premier Foods for over 30 years". The strike will involve all hourly paid process workers and weekly paid salaried engineers.

He said this week's stoppage followed the company's refusal to enter talks about a pay rise for 2009, although talks had taken on a pay package for 2010-2012.

"We have had several meetings with the company but, in our opinion, they have refused to be reasonable, and are clearly sticking to their guns," said Mr Plumb.

"Although the company blames the recession, our members, too, are feeling it with costs of food, fuel, and the cost of living generally all going up. We feel the company can afford to make a pay offer and morally should be able to make an offer since they gave managers and staff on salaries a pay rise from last April."

Mr Plumb said the pay anniversary passed last July without an increase for his members, and there had been ongoing talks since which culminated in a ballot of members in December.

"A postal ballot produced a result whereby 80 per cent of those who took part voted in favour of strike action," he said.

The 24 hour stoppage will begin at 6am on Wednesday, and a 48 hour stoppage is planned from January 20.

Mr Plumb did not expect the company's Long Sutton plant to be involved since he understood they had received a 2.5 per cent increase from last April as part of a long term deal.

"Premier has made on offer for coming years but we want to talk about what we are owed," he said. "We feel our members have been treated very badly in 2009."

He felt it was a good time to strike since the recent cold weather had seen people stocking up on canned food such as soup and baked beans which the company produces.

"We believe we are a site that if they settle with us, we can take it forward," said Mr Plumb.

Involving migrant workers will be "a test of strength for us" but he was confident of winning widespread support.

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