September 19, 2021

Weetabix strikes announced at Northamptonshire sites over company’s fire and rehire plans

Engineers employed by Weetabix at its factories in Northamptonshire will begin strike action later this month in a dispute over the company’s plans to fire and rehire them resulting in a huge cut in pay.

The workers, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, voted for strike action last week in the dispute where the workers are facing pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year.

The workers, based at the company’s factories in Corby and Kettering in Northamptonshire, will begin strike action on Wednesday 23rd June and then strike on the Wednesday of each week until mid-September. The strike action will inevitably cause problems in production and will lead to shortages of Weetabix and the company’s other products.

In addition to the pay cuts, the workers have severe health and safety concerns, as the company’s plans will result in very few engineers being on shift at certain times. This is despite Weetabix being a very profitable company. It is ultimately owned by US cereal giant Post Holdings Inc, which most recent accounts show it had a turnover of $5.7bn, an operating profit of $700.8m and $1.2bn in cash.

Weetabix has performed strongly since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. It returned a net turnover of $440m, a 5.3% increase, with profits of $112.3m, an 18.5% increase.

Unite regional officer, Sean Kettle, said: “Unite’s members have made it totally clear to Weetabix they will not allow the company to fire and rehire them and slash their pay. Strike action will inevitably cause serious disruption to the production of Weetabix and will lead to shortages in shops as the strike progresses.

“This strike can still be avoided if the company takes the threat to fire and rehire its workers and the prospect of huge pay cuts off the table and instead enters into sensible negotiations with Unite.”

Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands, Paresh Patel, said: “Weetabix and its parent company Post Holdings are enormously profitable. This attack on pay is clearly all about greed and not need. Workers should be thanked and rewarded for their hard work and dedication but instead Post Holdings and Weetabix are trying to use the pandemic to grubbily boost their profits.”

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 ten want the practice banned.

Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal, Howard Beckett, said: “It’s quite clear that the public is firmly on the side of working people when it comes to the horrific practice of fire and rehire.

“There is no grey area here. They see that this is an objectionable practice that should be banned. The government has to get on the same page as the voters on this – and fast.”

In response to the decision to strike, a spokesperson from Weetabix Food Company said: “To continue to meet the expectations of our customers and consumers it is important that our ways of working evolve, and as a business we continue to invest in our people, plants and products. We are naturally disappointed by the result of the reported ballot from union Unite, but respect the voice of our workforce and their representatives. Our success over nearly 90 years is built on a strong relationship with our workforce. We will remain in close consultation with them and are confident that together we can avoid any product shortages while we implement necessary new ways of working to keep us competitive for the next 90 years and beyond.”