Weetabix workers 'will not accept fire and rehire'

Weetabix workers in Northamptonshire announce autumn walkouts over £5,000 fire and rehire wage cuts

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Production of some of the nation’s favourite breakfast cereals will be hit when engineers employed by Weetabix at its Northamptonshire factories begin walk outs this month in opposition to the company’s plans to fire and rehire them on vastly inferior contracts.

The workers, members of Unite, based at the company’s factories in Kettering and Corby, face changes to their shift and working patterns which would result in some workers being up to £5,000 a year worse off.

Unite will begin a series of 48 hour strikes on Tuesday September 21 followed by strikes on the same day every week throughout the autumn with the final strike scheduled to begin on Tuesday, November 30.

The strikes will cause widespread delays to production and lead to shortages of Weetabix and other popular products made at the factories including Alpen, Weetos and Oatibix.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The idea of ‘fire and rehire’ is abhorrent to me.

“If Weetabix decide to go down this route and they overstep the line then I will absolutely defend our members.”

Strike action was originally scheduled for June but was postponed to allow for in-depth talks with the employer. Those talks led to new proposals being put to the workers but were overwhelmingly rejected by 82 per cent in a consultative ballot.

Unite warns that consumers will lose their appetites for a product produced by a highly profitable company like Weetabix which then attacks workers’ wages.

Weetabix has performed very strongly since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. It returned a net turnover of $440 million, a 5.3 per cent increase, with profits of $112.3 million, an 18.5 per cent increase. Owners US cereal giant Post Holdings Inc most recent accounts show it had a turnover of $5.7 billion, an operating profit of $700.8 million and $1.2 billion in cash.

Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said, “Unite has made it clear from the outset that our members will not accept being fired and rehired with large cuts to their pay and conditions.

“Unite has acted responsibly from the beginning of this dispute and called off industrial action for three months to seek an agreement,” he added.

“It is deeply disappointing that despite Weetabix’s staggering wealth that it was not prepared to make an offer than our members could accept.

“Strike action will inevitably lead to a disruption in production and shortages of Weetabix and the company’s other products will quickly follow,” Kettle continued.

“Weetabix is the UK’s favourite cereal but consumers are bound to quickly lose their appetite for the product when they learn it is made by mistreated workers.

“Industrial action can still be avoided but it will require Weetabix to withdraw its plans to fire and rehire its engineers and to put forward a realistic offer to our members,” he went on to say.

“Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers’ living standards.”

Members of the shopworkers union USDAW, who are also facing attacks on their shift pay are involved in industrial action at the Kettering site.

A recent Survation poll for Unite found seven in 10 people want the practice of fire and rehire banned.

By Barckley Sumner

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