Kettle Chips fights workers over unionisation

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Kettle chips Trade union Collective bargaining

Workers at the Kettle Chips factory vote today on whether to
join a trade union, despite stiff opposition from their private
equity bosses.

Although workers in the food industry often have fewer rights than those in other industries, the Kettle Chips company claims that the Unite union would not benefit its employees in any way precisely because they are well treated by their own bosses, and enjoy a privileged work environment.

"All our employees enjoy a secure salary, we have a 38-hour week with 25 days' paid holiday per annum increasing with service, and we offer a blue-chip benefits package that includes 100 per cent sick pay," a company spokesperson said.

The Unite union declined to speak to earlier today.

The disagreement came to light earlier this year, when the Unite union submitted an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), stating that Kettle Chip's production operatives should be "recognised for collective bargaining."

Kettle Chips was acting in a way that was "anti-union", Unite said, adding that the company's proposals to establish a collective bargaining unit were unacceptable.

"It was hypocritical of the employer to maintain that bargaining was inimical to the company's ethos on the one hand, whilst putting forward an alternative proposal," Unite said.

The union also claimed that although Kettle Chips is a good employer in terms of wages, insurance and other protecting methods, it tried to dissuade workers with "devious" anti-union propaganda.

Kettle Chips, however, responded by stating that a union purely for production operatives, workers on the factory lines, was contrary to corporate ethos, as the workers' benefits depended on the company being "united".

The union had originally applied for only production workers to have the right to collectiving barganing and for a vote for or against unionisation.

A decision by the tribunal in favour of the union expanded the collective barganing application to all non-executive employees.

"If the u nion 's proposed bargaining unit was granted then that process would begin the fragmentation of the organisation into different bargaining units which would compromise our ability to compete and therefore was incompatible with effective management," the company had said in its March submission.

The CAC praised Kettle Chips' treatment of its workers, but even still ruled in favour of the union.

"We often hear employers espouse a whole company approach when faced with a trade union recognition application, which, on closer examination, is aspirational rather than actual and bears no relation to the current management of the employer concerned," the board said.

According to the Guardian, Kettle Chips has not taken the decision lying down, and has now recruited US 'union-busters' to dissuade its 340 workers from voting to join Unite.

The company refused to comment on its relation with the Burke Group, but admitted that it does not want to recognise a union, the newspaper reported.

"We are very proud of our workforce and continue to believe passionately that direct engagement with employees in the spirit of mutuality is in the best interests of our employees and shareholders," a company spokesperson said.

Kettle Chips was originally created as the sister firm of Kettle Foods Oregon.

It is no longer US owned, and was bought by the private equity firm Lion Capitol last year.

Other food brands owned by Lion Capitol include Weetabix, Orangina and the French preserve company Materne.

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