Kettle Foods waits on union vote

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Kettle foods Trade union Collective bargaining

Workers at the Kettle Foods factory voted yesterday 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 Foods company is arguing that the Unite union would not benefit its workers 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. Kettle Foods, responsible for a range of popular Kettle Chips crisps in the UK, 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. According to the Unite union, the company is not afraid of tackling the workers, and has now recruited US 'union-busters' to dissuade its staff from voting to join Unite. Miles Hubbard, a Unite spokesperson, told that Kettle Foods has recruited Omega Training to talk to the workers about joining a union. "However, Omega Training is part of the same company as the Burke Group, a renowned anti-union consultancy, even if Kettle Foods is giving the impression of it offering impartial career advice,"​ he explained. Kettle Foods told that they would not be commenting on the unfolding events until the votes had been counted on the 10 October. However, they have released a statement saying that: "At no time were The Burke Group engaged by Kettle Foods. Kettle Foods is absolutely satisfied that whilst engaged with them, Omega Training has conducted itself appropriately and entirely in line with the DTI code of practice governing union recognition claims." ​Hubbard said that the company may only admit its links to anti-union consultancy after the votes have been counted, which is why the union is acting now. "Unfortunately the Burke Group has a success rate of over 90 per cent",​ he added, saying that he would not like to predict on how the vote will go. According to the Norwich Evening News, local MP Richard Howitt is also demanding answers from the crisp company. As well as meeting workers from the factory, Howitt has also written to the crisp factory asking for transparency in how the company conducts its business. "I believe the union's recognition by your company would contribute to Kettle Foods' continuing business success,"​ the letter concluded. The union disagreement came to light earlier this year, when the Unite union submitted an application to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), stating that Kettle Foods' production operatives should be "recognized for collective bargaining." ​Kettle Foods were 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 at the time. The union also claimed that although Kettle Foods is a good employer in terms of wages, insurance and other protecting methods, it tried to dissuade workers with propaganda. Kettle Foods, 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". "If theUnion'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 said.

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