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‘Fire and rehire’ row could lead to Weetabix shortage

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Breakfast eaters could face shortages of Weetabix this summer if workers at the company’s Northamptonshire factories take strike action.

The Weetabix workers are the latest to threaten industrial action due to plans to fire and rehire them on vastly inferior contracts resulting in their pay being slashed.

The dispute involves engineers at the company’s factories in Kettering and Corby who are members of union Unite. Weetabix has issued the engineers with new contracts and work patterns, which will result in major cuts in shift allowances. There will also be a move to require more day working than shift working, further contributing to the cut in pay.

Some of the affected engineers will lose up to £5,000 a year. There are also major concerns about health and safety of the workers at both plants due to the low number of engineers who will now be on duty at certain times.

The ballot for strike action opens on Thursday 27 May and closes on Thursday 3 June. If workers vote for strike action then stoppages will begin later next month.

Sean Kettle, Unite regional officer, said: “Unite will not sit idly by and allow our members to be fired and rehired. Our members play an essential role in keeping the Weetabix plants operating and to treat them in such an offhand manner in order to simply boost profits is disgraceful.

“If a strike occurs it will undoubtedly disrupt the production of Weetabix and result in shortages in the shops. The solution is in Weetabix’s hands. They need to withdraw the threat to fire and rehire our members and return to the negotiating table.”

Paresh Patel, Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands, said: “Unite’s members have continued to work throughout the pandemic, risking their own health and that of their families, in order to ensure customers continue to receive their Weetabix.

“Any decent company would be paying their workers a bonus in recognition of their commitment and sacrifice, rather than attempt to slash their wages.”

Unite has repeatedly raised the alarm over an outbreak of fire and rehire disputes across the UK as unscrupulous employers look to exploit workers using Covid-19 as an excuse.

The union is running a national campaign to get the government to outlaw the practice, in line with other competitor countries, to give UK workers protection. A recent Survation poll for Unite found seven in 10 want the practice banned.

British Gas is one of the biggest companies to be criticised for firing and rehiring staff, with about 400 engineers who refused to sign new contracts sacked last month. Other fire and rehire disputes are ongoing at Goodlord, Go North West, Brush Electronics, SAICA, Tesco and Jacobs Douwe Egberts.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently found that one in 10 workers had been threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic. Unions fear this number will grow dramatically as furlough ends unless the law is changed.