Bury St Edmunds: British Sugar workers to be balloted on strike action

WORKERS at four British Sugar factories, including three in East Anglia, are to be balloted on possible strike action after rejecting a 3.5% pay offer.

Members of the GMB union have accepted the offer by British Sugar, which is part of the Associated British Foods group.

But members of Unite, the UK’s biggest trade union, have rejected the deal and are seeking a 5.5% rise for the year to April 2012 – equivalent to the current Retail Prices Index, plus 0.5%.

Unite, whose members include British Sugar engineers and production staff, will now ballot its 250 members at the company’s plants in Bury St Edmunds, Cantley, near Great Yarmouth, Wissingham, near King’s Lynn, and Newark in Nottinghamshire.

They will be asked if they support strike action or some other form of industrial action short of a strike.

Tony Ellingford, regional office for Unite, said: “British Sugar is a highly profitable company and, despite their complaints that the sugar beet crop was hit by the bad weather during the winter, they are well able to afford a decent pay rise.

“Our members rejected the 3.5% because it was well below the current rate of inflation. Household and energy bills are soaring and in rural East Anglia, with poor public transport links, employees have to use their cars to get to work and are particularly hard pressed by ever-rising petrol costs.”

Most Read

Mr Ellingford added: “Unite is keen to sit down with management to reach a fair and equitable agreement.”

A British Sugar spokesman said the company had been in pay talks with trade unions since March and it believed that the offer, which was above the average level of settlements in the wider market, was “fair and reasonable within the current economic conditions”.

The offer included a 3.5% consolidated increase in salaries for all employees (permanent, seasonal and temporary), an increase in the contractual notice period from one week to one month for both the employee and company, and a three month notice period for employees wishing to retire.

“All components of this package were recommended for acceptance by the trade unions to their members,” said the company spokesman.

“Members of the GMB union have accepted the pay offer. However, members of the Unite union have opted to conduct a ballot to vote on industrial action and we await the outcome.”

The spokesman added that British Sugar had “undertaken all necessary steps to mitigate any disruption to our four processing factories and the delivery of our products to our customers”.