Union challenges Premier Foods in agency workers dispute

Union challenges Premier Foods in agency workers dispute
3rd Sep 2013

 The general secretary of the trade union, whose members are on strike in a dispute with Premier Foods over the use of agency workers, has challenged the company to show that its permanent workforce cannot meet the company’s requirements for flexibility. Reports the Recruiter

More than 200 workers from the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) have been on strike since 28 August at Premier Foods’ Hovis factory in Wigan. Two further one-week strikes are planned in the coming weeks.

Ronnie Draper, general secretary of BFAWU, disputes Premier Foods’ claims that it wants the right to bring in agency workers at Wigan to improve labour flexibility. They want to “get labour on the cheap”, says Draper.

And he challenges the company to give even one example of an occasion where the existing workforce at Wigan had not allowed the company to flex staff numbers up or down to meet fluctuation in demand.

Draper calls for the company to agree to halt the use of agency workers at the Hovis site to allow the workers to go back to work. Following that, he says: “Let’s see how we get on with flexibility, and if your existing staff can’t do it, then we can talk about alternatives.”
Draper says the reason why the use of agency workers at the Hovis factory in Wigan is an issue, when there are agreements throughout the rest of Premier Foods to allow the use of agency workers, is because of a breakdown of trust between workers and local management.
Richard Johnson, director of corporate affairs at Premier Foods, tells Recruiter that in an effort “to move things forward” the final six zero-hours contract workers employed by Premier Foods at the Wigan site were offered full-time positions last week. This had always been planned, he says, though he adds the strike “obviously accelerated some things”. Johnson says this brings to 28 the number of former zero-hours contracts workers at the factory switched to full-time jobs.

However, on the substantive issue of the use of agency staff, Johnson says the company “can’t give an exception for Wigan”.

“It’s got to be in line with unions at other sites. We are prepared to talk about it, but we need the flexibility to use agency labour, as we do elsewhere without any problems,” says Johnson. He says agency workers supplied by one or two agencies to the Hovis factory are used only in small numbers of “about 10 people maximum” and only after extra work has first been offered to existing permanent staff.

There are no signs that the union members are backing down. “I can confirm that following a mass meeting held on Friday afternoon attended by 170 members, [they] voted unanimously to continue with the dispute until the company withdraw the threat of agency labour from the Wigan site,” says Draper.
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