Strike threat to turkey supplies

UNION leaders claim that turkey supplies to major supermarkets could be threatened in the run up to Christmas unless a dispute is resolved at leading producer Bernard Matthews.

UNION leaders claim that turkey supplies to major supermarkets could be threatened in the run up to Christmas unless a dispute is resolved at leading producer Bernard Matthews.

Workers will hold a one-day strike on Thursday, November 15 at the firm's sites in East Anglia, in the first of a possible series of stoppages after members of the Unite union voted to take industrial action in protest at what the union claims is an effective pay cut.

Bernard Matthews, which supplies turkeys and turkey products to Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons supermarkets, and is the biggest turkey producer in Europe, warned lost business could result in job losses.

The 1,300 members at its sites at Great Witchingham, Norfolk, Holton in Suffolk and Dunstable, Bedfordshire, have been angered by the imposition of a 2% pay award, below RPI inflation which currently stands at 3.9%.

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The union says workers feel let-down after playing a crucial role in supporting the company during its difficulties earlier this year following the outbreak of avian flu at the company's premises.

Unite has also expressed surprise at the sudden departure of Bernard Matthews chief executive Bart Dalla Mura, who wrote to all workers urging them to vote against strike action.

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Miles Hubbard, Unite regional industrial organiser, said yesterday: “The workforce has held this company together through a most challenging year, so have been particularly angered by management's imposition of what is effectively a pay cut.

“It is indicative of the strength of feeling that members have voted for strike action having worked so hard for the company in difficult circumstances. They came under a good degree of pressure from management not to vote for strike action, so we urge Bernard Matthews to return to us with an improved pay offer which they have thus far refused to do.”

Workers want a £6.50 basic minimum hourly rate, but according to the union are currently on £5.72 per hour, with the imposed pay award only taking the hourly rate to £5.83.

Bernard Matthews said it had made “a very strong pay offer” in light of its current business position, with a 2% wage rise backdated to August, an additional recovery bonus at year end and a review of the situation in February 2008.

“The union chose not to recommend this offer to its members and encouraged them to reject it and vote for industrial action instead,” it said.

“Unite now wishes to proceed with industrial action despite only 295 or 27% of around 1,100 union members representing just 12% of our total workforce, voting in favour of industrial action at its ballot that finished on November 5th. Bernard Matthews is surprised at this decision as it has always worked very closely with the Unite, and even signed up to its 'Minimum Standards Agreement' to guarantee equality for agency workers.

“The consequence of lost business is potential job losses, which is not what anyone wants. The union's strategy of fighting for a pay award when there are no additional finances to fund one appears to be at odds with its desire to work in the interest of our employees' future.”

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