By 25/07/2012

Timeline of 2 Sisters’ Recent Attacks on Workers

Updated July 2016.

Midlands:  In December 2008, workers at 2 Sisters’ three poultry processing sites in the Midlands in the Unite union balloted for industrial action over low pay. “2 Sisters has offered £214 per week. This is just 8p an hour above the minimum wage for staff who work a 37.5 hour week.”

Birmingham:  In October 2009, 55 members of Unite union were sacked from their Smethwick plant for a participating in a wildcat strike over alleged racial abuse. Watch the video of their protest outside of M&S.

Flixton:  In December 2009, while cleaning equipment at the 2 Sisters Food Group’s plant at Flixton (near Bungay), a workers “hand was pulled into two rotating cogs and crushed” because a “safety guard had been removed from the machinery.” Then a month later another workers “arm was trapped and broken” because 2 Sisters “had fitted a by-pass device to over-ride a safety control that would have prevented this happening.” The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive and fined a total of £230,000 with costs of £24,350.

Devon:  In March 2011 two Westcountry farms launched legal action against 2 Sisters “for cutting the amount paid for their free range chickens — after they had been shipped and purchased by customers.” In this instance 2 Sisters was illegally “imposing retrospective price changes that chicken farmers say ‘threaten the long term future’ of their businesses.”

Batley:  In February 2012, six people “were taken to hospital when a diesel storage tank exploded” at 2 Sisters’ Fox’s Biscuits plant in West Yorkshire. The incident happened “as the tank was being drained and cleaned, the company said.”

Scunthorpe:  In March 2012, 2 Sisters moved to reduce costs at their Scunthorpe chicken factory by moving from a weekly to four-weekly system for paying workers. An USDAW representative said: “While we acknowledge the company’s business case for the change to monthly pay, there must be fair transitional arrangements in place to ensure none of our members suffer any financial hardship or difficulties as a result.”

Sheffield:  In March 2012 around 800 members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) at 2 Sisters’ Gunstones bakery near Sheffield voted 95.3% in favour of strike action after owners 2 Sisters announced that “employees would have overtime rates on weekends and Bank Holidays reduced”; and that sick pay would also be cut.

Scunthorpe:  In March 2012 the pay and conditions of around 1,000 poultry factory workers were again under attack. “According to workers in the factory, staff there get no say in what overtime they work, and are expected to work what hours are required to fulfil orders. This in its self is not their complaint,” instead staff were concerned that “proposals for new working requirements may include a reduction in overtime rates from Time and One Half to just Time and One Quarter, and the potential removal of sickness benefits from salaried staff…”

Corby:  In April 2012, the Sandwich manufacturer Solway Foods which is owned by 2 Sisters was “found guilty of constructive dismissal and disability discrimination when a worker was forced to resign after falling at the firm’s Northamptonshire factory.”

Leicester:  In June 2012 five hundred workers at the RF Brookes food processing factory took four days of strike action when it was announced (in May) that nearly 200 workers would be laid off with their redundancy money illegally cut from two and a half weeks to just one week for every year of employment. The factory was eventually closed. The BFAWU is currently engaged in legal action against 2 Sisters.

Carlisle:  In July 2012 USDAW worked with management to come to the agreement that the Cavaghan & Grey factories 800 permanent staff “reduce their overtime paid for Bank holidays from basic plus double time to time and a half“; and “agreed to reduce their rights to sick pay.” This compromise apparently maintained the workers over-time pay. As noted in a recent Socialist Party article: “The mood among many is for a strike. Yet incredibly their union organiser from USDAW wants a compromise!

Batley:  In July 2012, around 700 staff “at Fox’s Biscuits have been told to accept new working terms and conditions, or face the chop.” Branch secretary of BFAWU said the staff were told in January that 2 Sisters wanted to reduce or remove some terms and conditions. She added: “The problem is, the company has issued us with HR1 redundancy notices. This has got a lot of people scared, but we are telling them not to panic as we are in talks with solicitors, who are advising us.”

In October 2012, workers at Fox’s Biscuits “voted in favour of a strike over changes to their working terms and conditions.” The ballot was returned “by 397 people across the company’s Batley and Kirkham sites, with 70 per cent voting in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 57 per cent voting in favour of a strike.”

West Midlands:  On Friday 23 November 2012, Unite started balloting its members at the Bevan Way and Dial Lane sites in Smethwick, West Bromwich and the Lincoln Street plant in Wolverhampton on whether they wish to take industrial action “in a dispute over pay and conditions, and a culture of alleged bullying.” After “voting nearly unanimously for industrial action” this ballot led to the decision to take three 24-hour strikes in December.

As a result of this determined strike action by 1,400 trade unionists they “won an inflationary busting wage rise, paid time off for workers injured at work and major concessions on holidays and car parking charges.” Watch a video of their successful strike action here.

Corby:  In March 2013, members of the BFAWU at a factory which processes meat and salad were “balloted for industrial action, which could lead to a strike or an overtime ban.” “[U]nion members want to take action in protest at a £40 a week pay cut last year, as well as various amendments to contracts and a ban on pay rises.”

In January 2014 BFAWU members voted overwhelmingly to take strike action over pay and conditions; although this industrial action was called off soon after when was announced that 2 Sisters was planning to close the factory which employed some 913 people. In April 2 Sisters announced they were closing the factory.

Haughley Park: In August 2013, 2 Sisters said it was planning to shut the plant at Haughley Park near Stowmarket, with the loss of 600 jobs. The factory eventually closed in November 2013.

Letham: This factory in Scotland was also closed down in 2013.

Avana: In March 2014 a report noted that as part of their ongoing efforts to “rationalise its operations” 2 Sisters was looking at closing their site at Avana, near Newport in Wales. Closure of the Avana Bakeries plant was finally announced the following month with the tragic loss of 650 jobs.

A later report in July 2014 noted that Avana Bakeries had sold its food processing site in Rogerstone to Food Utopia which still employed 552 people. The new company, Food Utopia, “was not part of the 2 Sisters Group which owns Avana but had been set up by two former 2 Sisters executives.” Eventually 390 redundancies were announced on the site.

Dronfield: In August 2014, more than 400 workers have been threatened with redundancy at Gunstones Bakery on Stubley Lane in Dronfield (which employs about 1,200 staff).

Dronfield: On 15th June 2015, bakers at Gunstones Bakery began a 48-hour strike after management “backtracked on promises of a pay rise, following 427 people being made redundant.” According to the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU), which organised the strike, the bakery has cited the overall cost of the redundancies as a reason for not increasing pay. “Another 48-hour strike is set to take place on 17 and 18 of July.”

On 24th June 2015, only 18 Labour MP’s felt able to support an early day motion in parliament which supported the workers at the Gunstones Bakery. 

A further 48-hour strike was due to commence on August 6, but was called off owing to a victory on the part of the Gunstone workers.

Sheffield: On 19-20 May, 500 BFAWU members at Pennine Foods also struck for the first time ever against the imposition of a new contract removing all premium pay. “The company aims to remove double time and time and a half on weekends and cut pay for breaks. This is comes at the same time as they are set to rebuild the entire plant at a cost of £38 million.”

Newport: On June 2, workers at RJ Brookes in Rogerstone undertook a 48-hour strike as 2 Sisters attempted to cut pay as the National Living Wage is introduced. “A delegation from Pennine Foods is travelling down to support the strike. They, and workers at Pizza Factory in Nottingham, are also in dispute with 2 Sisters over cuts to premium pay, with Pennine workers ready to strike again on 5 June following a well-supported two-day strike two weeks ago.”

Dai Mort, BFAWU branch secretary at Brookes, explained that workers are striking against a cut to night shift allowance and overtime rates. Some workers could lose nearly £3,000 a year and workers under 25 years will be paid 50p an hour less. Pennine workers will be sending a car down to the RF Brookes picket line in solidarity. And 440 Unite union members at the Pizza Factory (also owned by 2 Sisters) in Nottingham are currently balloting over a pay claim, with the result due on 6 June.

Sheffield: June 5-6 marked the date of a second 48-hour strike for workers at Pennine Foods – “not one lorry went in or out of the factory.” Workers “voted unanimously on the picket line to escalate the next planned two-day strike into a week-long strike commencing on Thursday 16th June.”

Newport: July – Production at RF Brookes slowed to a virtual standstill on the second day of the second strike in Rogerstone near Newport. Agency workers who had been bussed in to break the strike were sent home as production ground to a halt. About 100 workers supported the picket line.

West Bromwich: on July 26 it was reported that workers staged a protest outside the company’s factory in West Bromwich (on Dial Lane) over what a trade union called “dignity at work and impartiality practices”. Sulinder Singh, an officer of Unite the Union with national responsibility for 2 Sisters, said: “Our members were demonstrating at shift cross-over time on public land over a number of grievances, in relation to dignity at work and impartiality practices, they have with the local HR department looking after the site in West Bromwich.


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