On the Picket Line

Cereal maintenance workers in UK fight wage cuts

By Jonathan Silberman
and Pamela Holmes
October 25, 2021

BURTON LATIMER, England — Maintenance engineers at Weetabix breakfast cereal manufacturing plants are fighting attacks on their schedules and wages. Members of the Unite union just concluded the third of 11 planned weekly two-day work stoppages Oct. 6.

“The company is moving to consolidate different shift patterns that will leave some workers thousands of pounds out of pocket each year,” Mark Oakley told the Militant. Oakley, who has worked at the plant for 17 years, is one of five shop stewards who represent the 60 maintenance workers. “We have to fight back.”

The company has two major plants in Northamptonshire and a smaller one in Manchester — with a combined workforce of 1,000 — as well as operations in North America, South Africa, Germany, Spain and Kenya.

“During the pandemic the company’s sales went through the roof,” Oakley said. “They put on extra shifts, such was the demand. Now we face this!”

The company’s profits soared by 20% in 2020, said Sharon Graham, recently elected Unite general secretary, who joined the picket Sept. 29.

Buoyed by reports that production was being hit by their walkout, workers at a picket line meeting Oct. 6 discussed what demands to place on the company, the establishment of a strike committee and options for escalating the action.

The production workers at the plant are organized by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and have a separate contract. Those working on the Alpen cereal bar line walked out for 24 hours in August, forcing bosses to reinstate a 27.5% shift pay premium, said Usdaw regional official Ed Leach.