Factory plans 24-hour strike as of tomorrow

Heinz Unite Union members at Goose Green Labour Club before their vote for strike action
Heinz Unite Union members at Goose Green Labour Club before their vote for strike action

WORKERS at food giant Heinz will go on strike tomorrow night.

Unite said its members at the firm’s factory in Wigan will walk out for 24 hours as of 10pm and launch a continuous ban on overtime.

The action was agreed at a mass meeting after workers rejected a pay offer of 3.3 per cent this year and three per cent the following year.

Unite warned that the stoppage will lead to two million fewer cans, including Heinz beans and soups, being produced.

Speaking after the mass meeting at Goose Green Labour Club, Jennie Formby, Unite’s national officer for food and drink, said: “The mood of the meeting was angry and determined. Heinz have left our members with no choice but to stand firm and fight for a fair pay deal.

“They are treating its loyal and long-serving workforce disgracefully. It’s our members that helped them make its vast profits yet they are still refusing to table an improved offer that reflects their hard work.

“Make no mistake, this strike will hit Christmas production.

“Our members are absolutely determined to win fair pay and we are determined to see that they get it. Unless Heinz forks out a fairer deal, then strike action will go ahead.”

Just over 1,100 workers will be involved in the strike but not everyone has backed the industrial action.

A former union chief at the Wigan plant has voiced fears any walkout could damage the future viability of the plant and even cause the company to eventually move production back to mainland Europe.

His warning came after the Kitt Green factory’s boss wrote to every union member at home warning them the plant, which makes a million and a half cans of baked beans a day, was now at “a junction, depending on what action is taken.”

Unite members voted by a majority of more than 90 per cent to take industrial action.

Jennie Formby said: “This ballot result reflects what our members feel about Heinz’s current attitude.”

But the ex-Unite chief appealed to workers not to carry out the mandate they have won for a strike. He said: “ I am doing this with a very heavy heart because I feel so strongly about the current situation at the plant. There are people there who seem to believe that the factory will always be there however the workforce conduct themselves.

“But I have grave concerns about how the company will look at the situation afterwards if strikes do take place.

“I want the workforce to carefully consider the current dire situation regarding the economy both locally and nationally. I am asking the membership to please reconsider any action as this would turn out to be better for the town in these difficult times.”

Heinz would not comment on the fears or enlarge on whether any walkout would influence future investment at Wigan.

Vice-President of supply chain at Kitt Green Jaap Wilbers would only say: “We are now at a junction which, depending on the decision employees take, will shape how we move the site forward over the next few years.

“The offer we have made speaks for itself. In real terms the offer equates to four per cent increase in year one with up to three per cent next year. This is well above the UK average weekly earnings which are increasing by 1.7 per cent.”