A WIGAN MP has backed the cause of striking workers at the Hovis bakery as a landmark dispute over workers’ rights continues.
Members of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) started their second week-long walkout yesterday over the use of agency staff and zero hours contracts at the New Springs site.
Several unions - including Unison, Unite and GMB - showed their support for the BFAWU with members occupying a picket line outside the Premier Foods bakery on Cale Lane.
A support rally through the town centre will take place on Saturday. Shadow children’s secretary Lisa Nandy MP, who has visited the picket line, will speak at the rally.
She told the Evening Post: “What has happened at Hovis has drawn national attention because there’s such concern about the exploitation of zero hours contracts all over the country.
“I tabled a motion in parliament last week that has attracted widespread support, we are worried about the number of people who are trapped in these contracts and can’t plan their lives or predict their income from day to day.”
Premier Foods - the parent company that produces Hovis brand bread and crumpets - has maintained that the use of agency staff is commonplace in the food production industry and used to cover seasonal peaks in demand.
All staff that had previously been on zero hour contracts in Wigan have been upgraded to full time staff before the start of the strike action last month, the company added.
But Ms Nandy said those agency workers could also be on zero hours terms.
She said: “It’s welcome that the company has got rid of their zero hour contracts but with the use of agency labour it allows the company to bring people in on those deals who aren’t employed by the company but by an outside agency.
“There is a bigger problem here about the increasing casualisation of the labour force.
“The point workers made to me when I went down to the picket line is that they don’t want to be working alongside colleagues who are being paid less and have fewer rights for doing the same job as them.”
A statement from Premier Food said: “It is not, and has never been, our intention to replace full time staff with agency labour at our Wigan bakery or to use agency labour as a way of eroding the terms and conditions of our full time employees.
“We continue to search for a satisfactory outcome to the dispute in the interests of the future competitiveness and viability of the Wigan bakery and everyone that works at the site.”
A further BFAWU strike is planned on September 25. Regional secretary Geoff Atkinson said the walkout follows redundancies in April and a reduction in hours.
He said: “The real issue of agency worker exploitation is still a long way from being resolved.
“As ever, the union is more than prepared to talk to the company.”