Strike ballot called at troubled Moy Park over workers' terms and conditions

More than 3,000 staff at Moy Park are to ballot for possible strike action
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THOUSANDS of workers at troubled poultry producer Moy Park are to vote on possible strike action in what could be another crippling blow to Northern Ireland's largest company.

A strike ballot of more than 3,000 Unite union members across a number of Moy Park's site will be taken in the coming weeks over what has been described as "unreasonable management demands in ongoing pay negotiations".

It comes less than a fortnight since the chicken giant said that will stop slaughtering birds at its Ballymena factory until next January in what unions fear could result in up to 400 job losses.

The company, which was bought by JBS from Marfig for £1.2 billion in 2015 before being sold on to one of its subsidiaries Pilgrim's Pride two years later, is currently embroiled in a legal wrangle in the US, with shareholders challenging if the purchase was fair.

And it comes as downwardly-revised tariff for poultry suppliers involved in the controversial renewable heat incentive (RHI) green energy scheme, many with a contractual tie-in with Moy Park, could force some farmers out of business.

Sean McKeever, Unite's regional officer representing his union's membership at Moy Park, confirmed the strike ballot.

He told the Irish News: “When Moy Park was sold by Brazilian meat-packing giant JBS to one of its own subsidiaries Pilgrim's Pride, we forecast that this would presage a broader onslaught on workforce terms and conditions, and sadly that's now apparent to every Moy Park worker in Northern Ireland.

“From our first meetings with the incoming management team it was apparent they were intent on attacking terms and conditions of workers, who remain among the best of any workforce in the UK agri-food industry.

“In recent pay negotiations they have brought forward proposals seeking to undermine shift allowances, sickness scheme, holiday entitlement, attendance allowance, statutory days and decent breaks – terms and conditions that were hard won over many years and which are simply not up for negotiation.

“Moy Park's workforce in Northern Ireland has a strong and well-organised team of Unite workplace representatives. We recently defeated an attempt to divide maintenance engineers from the bargaining unit and saw off attempts to keep union officials off-site. Management need to think again – this is not a workforce that will stand by as they slash and burn their way in a race-to-the-bottom on rights and entitlements.”

Moy Park, which posted pre-tax profits just shy of £60 million last year, has 12 processing facilities in Northern Ireland, England, France and Holland and works in partnership with more than 800 dedicated farming partners who supply it with poultry.

It currently produces more than six million birds a week, having increased production by 20 per cent since 2015, and now supplies 30 per cent of the total UK poultry market.

Mr McKeever added: “Unite is now preparing the roll-out of a ballot on all-out strike action of our 3,000-plus members. Management need to recognise the determination of this workforce before it leads to unnecessary and entirely avoidable disruption to their operations here.”

A Moy Park spokesperson told the Irish News: “We are aware of the recent union statement and we will continue to engage with the union and work towards a negotiated agreement.”

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