A UNION chief has given Wigan strikers fresh resolve in their pay fight.
Unite general secretary-elect Len McCluskey made a surprise visit to the picket lines outside Heinz Kitt Green to encourage 1,200 production workers locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with bosses at Europe’s biggest canned food plant.
And he told members involved in the third and final 24-hour walkout of the year: “The company can easily afford to settle the dispute.”
The next strike is planned for tomorrow but further talks are set to take place today.
Unite claims that each stoppage is costing the firm £1m and losing them almost two million cans of baked beans and soups.
But Heinz insists that there will be no shortages on the shelves of supermarkets because the firm had been stockpiling ahead of the dispute.
During the visit, Mr McCluskey rounded on Heinz management, warning them that their conduct during the pay dispute was revealing an “unpalatable side of the food company.”
Workers have overwhelmingly rejected a two-year three per cent-plus pay deal because it is below the cost of living. They say changes to the long-running productivity scheme would see their pay go backwards, despite Heinz’s profit margins standing at around 37 per cent.
Mr McCluskey said: “The UK people are fond of Heinz products, as sales show, but they also admire fairness.
“If they understood how Heinz is squeezing workers’ wages to instead turbo-charge profit margins and put money in the pockets of managers, then that affection would certainly be tarnished.
“Heinz can easily afford to settle this dispute and to do so without trampling on the reputation of this loyal workforce.”
A spokesman for Heinz said: “The offer we have made in real terms equates to a four per cent increase in year one (3.3 per cent plus a £200 one-off payment).
“And since we have consolidated pay supplements as requested in the second year, in real terms, the increase amounts to between 3.6 per cent and 4.6 per cent for the majority of workers.
“Working closely with Unite, we have consolidated a significant part of each factory employee’s performance related bonus payments into their base earnings, but this consolidation appears to have been forgotten.
“We have to remain competitive. This is how we can keep jobs at Kitt Green, keep investing in the long-term future of the site, and ensure we can afford above market pay increases.”