Hovis strike shows how to fight zero-hours

Submitted by Matthew on 10 September, 2013 - 8:10

Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) organiser Geoff Atkinson spoke to Solidarity.

We can be an inspiration to other workers facing zero-hours contracts. Sometimes it takes a little person to stand up and fight against a big bully.

We had always managed without agency labour at Hovis. In the past there was always an eight week rolling contract for temporary workers. If you worked 13 weeks, you got a permanent contract.

Now they want to use zero-hours contracts provided by a third party, and they also want to keep the zero-hours workers on minimum wage. They have told us they want to use the Swedish Derogation [from the EU Agency Workers’ Directive], so that they don’t have to match what the agency legislation stipulates the agency workers be paid.

The company wants to use agency labour and zero-hours contracts to cover where they have just made 26 people redundant. That is the issue we are striking about. On top of that, the company wants to reduce the pay of the “as-and-when-ers”, as the zero-hours staff were called, by £5 per hour.

On the back of us going out on strike the company issued permanent contracts to the six zero-hour contracted people who were currently on site, but they still proposed to use zero-hour contracts to cover accidents, holidays and sickness and any uplift in business.

When the redundancies were announced earlier this year, the whole bakery took a cut in hours and salary to prevent the loss of jobs — not to be replaced by either agency or zero-hour contracted people.

The company has flatly refused to re-address shift patterns and reinstate people’s hours and earnings, but say they’re going to use agency labour — zero-hours contracts supplied by a third party.

The company’s spokesperson, Richard Johnson, stated in the Recruiter magazine that they would only use a maximum of ten persons on agency labour. Even so, the company refused to give us any assurances about that maximum of ten. Our second week of strike action starts from 6am on 11 September.

When Hovis cut hours, some people lost ten hours a week. The loss of earnings was between £85 and £100 per head. Some shift patterns were 52-hour shift patterns, and they changed to 42 hours. Some are down to 40 hours per week.

Some people had been here for 30 years plus. Those people are being replaced by agency labour, starting not 48 hours after they left the business. It is a cost-cutting exercise.

I’ve been in the industry for 25 years, 22 in a bakery. I understand the fluctuations in the production needs. We have always had temporary staff.

But the union had a national working agreement that temporary staff would be paid the same hourly rate as a permanent employee. And from experience in Wigan, they always managed to cover the fluctuation in business either by addressing shift patterns, or through casual labour.

The support we have received has been phenomenal. I’ve lost count of how many messages of support, how many donations we have received to help us in our fight against this. We are a small union. We’re a small band of people at Wigan.

I hope we have been an inspiration to our supporters, and I hope that people will take the same stance, and join us on the picket line.

We are planning a march from Wigan town centre on Saturday morning 14 September.

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