British Sugar factory workers to be balloted on strike action

Steam pipes out of chimneys at the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds.

Steam pipes out of chimneys at the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Su Anderson

British Sugar factory workers across the East of England could come out on strike after rejecting a 2% pay offer.

Union Unite said members' feelings were running high at the offer, following recent company results and what it claimed was "extravagant" pay for top executives.

Around 500 technicians, engineers and supply chain operatives across Suffolk, Norfolk and Nottinghamshire rejected the company pay offer by 86% in a consultative ballot.

They will be balloted between July 5 and July 26 on strike action at the company's Bury St Edmunds, Newark, Wissington and Cantley factories.

But the company said it was confident agreement would be reached - and hit out at the union over its statements. It stressed it was in active negotiations and had not walked away from the table.

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But Unite says members are angry after agreeing to a "paltry" 1% rise in 2019 when the company was struggling on the understanding - it claims - that the company would make it up to them when it got back on a better footing.

In the year to August 29, 2020, British Sugar saw its operating profits rise to £57.7m from a £7.4m loss in 2019. Its pre-tax profit in 2020 was £54.6m.

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The union pointed to financial returns which show directors' pay package in 2020 was £2.6m in 2020, compared to £2m in 2019. The highest paid director's pay rose by 46% from 2019, from £819,405 to £1,198,031. 

The union claimed that the pay rise offered equated to half a million pounds.

Unite regional officer Mark Plumb said: “The backdrop of broken pay promises, extravagant executive remuneration and British Sugar’s take it or leave attitude to negotiations means that this dispute could turn sour very quickly. 

“Our members feelings are running high and coordinated strikes at every one of British Sugar’s processing factories during the UK’s sugar beet harvest could cause real problems for the company’s operations and across its supply chain. 

“British Sugar is operating at a profit and can clearly afford massive pay rises for top staff. This dispute can be resolved quickly and amicably if British Sugar improves on its not so sweet pay offer.” 

A British Sugar spokeswoman said: “We are in active negotiations with Unite to reach agreement on our pay offer for our factory based people.

"We are therefore disappointed that the union is talking about strike action and the communication today contains a number of inaccuracies. We are confident we will reach an agreement that works for all in the coming weeks.

“The implication that we have walked away from the table is not true – we remain in active negotiations.

“The salary increase for British Sugar directors last year was 2%. The total package includes performance driven incentives which do vary year on year.”

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