Saturday, 15 January 2011

Heinz Strike - workers win improved offer

Four solid strikes by 1000+ workers at the Heinz plant in Wigan have forced a significantly improved offer from the company.
By Hugh Caffrey, Socialist Party
Members of the Unite union are now voting over whether to accept the offer of a two year deal covering last year and this year, for 3.9% pay rises in each year plus guarantees on the bonus scheme.The offer was made following talks on 12 January.

Ian Wright, acting convenor for Unite, told me: 
"I think the offer's adequate, it's not brilliant, it's not inflation, but it's probably what will float our members' boats. In any case, it's the members' decision whether to accept it or whether to reject it. Now we're just waiting for the ballot result which will be out midday on Tuesday 18 January. ACAS brokered the talks and they did a brilliant job, maybe it was about getting their [Heinz bosses'] egos down a bit!"

Unite put in a pay claim last spring for 4.3%, fractionally above the rate of inflation. Previously management had shown no interest in seriously negotiating with Unite, only talks which went nowhere while inflation eroded pay.

Ian says: "It never needed to get to this. When we put in the claim, we asked for just over 4%, the company should have talked to us properly then. Yet we’ve been through all that, roughly £4 million down the drain [in lost production], it’s ridiculous!"

In between strike days, Heinz offered a derisory 0.2% above what was on the table a year ago, except with more strings attached. Workers rejected this by 2:1 in a ballot and took strike action again on 11 January. 
Strikers on the picket line then expressed absolute determination to continue the struggle and notified Heinz of another 24-hour strike on Wednesday 19 January.

Ian summarised the situation: "Maybe it was all just bravado, but it’s cost them a lot of money, and then there’s the reputational damage and the situation on site. Hopefully now they’ll see sense and move on, and I just hope they don’t get a mardy face on!"

This has been one of the most important private sector struggle in recent months and the Socialist Party is proud to have been able to help support and publicise the Heinz workers’ case to the public, in the unions and through the North-West Shop Stewards Network.

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