Union warns Hovis of impact to bread supplies if workers back strike over pay

The Hovis Ltd operation on Apollo Road, Belfast
Ryan McAleer

A TRADE union has warned that bread supplies in the north will be disrupted in January if its members back strike action.

Unite is preparing to ballot workers at Hovis in Belfast over a pay dispute.

The company, which is based on Apollo Road in south Belfast next to Windsor Park, includes the Ormo brand.

Formed in 2014, Hovis Ltd is jointly owned by Premier Foods and The Gores Group.

Regional officer for the union Sean McKeever, said he was initiating a ballot of members working at the company, claiming that the bread manufacturing sector needed to address what he called “poverty pay”.

Unite has claimed that once overtime and shift bonuses are removed, the basic rate of pay is actually ninety pence below the legal minimum of £8.21 an hour.

“Unite's members at Hovis Bakery in Belfast have put forward a pay claim for a 5.1 percent pay increase. This will translate into a long overdue increase to their wages which remains at scandalously low levels,” said the union official.

“The fact that workers' pay is consolidated means that the employer is able to get away with this – but it means that workers have to work excessively and intensively to break the minimum wage threshold.”

Mr McKeever said Hovis had recently recorded a pre-tax profit of £15 million.

He said: “Their failure to make any move has left Unite with no option but to open a ballot of Hovis workers on strike action.

But in a statement, a spokesperson for Hovis said it was continuing to operate in “a very tough and competitive market”.

It countered Unite's claims, stating that as a company, it continues to make a loss.

The company said it was disappointed with the move to ballot staff.

“Negotiations with Unite regarding an enhanced pay and conditions package for our team at the Belfast bakery have been progressing and the latest offer made by Hovis has yet to be put to a staff vote.

“We remain committed to seeking a resolution that is acceptable to all sides and allows us to continue building our brand in a sustainable manner.”

But reiterating the trade union's warning, Mr McKeever said: “Any strike at Hovis would have profound implications for bread supply in the early new year.

“We are calling on employers to get real and address their workforces' pay expectations. While shareholders may see only the opportunity to make bread out of making bread – the workers are not going to accept only the crumbs off the table - they want to earn more than a crust.”

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