Strike action this week at Hovis could lead to NI bread shortages, claims Unite trade union

Trade union Unite claims that industrial action at a major bread producer in NI this week could potentially cause bread shortages.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 2:58 pm
Updated Monday, 10th May 2021, 3:47 pm
Workers at the south Belfast Hovis plant have voted to strike this week.

Workers at the Hovis site in south Belfast have voted “overwhelmingly” for strike action, the union says.

Pickets are set to be deployed at the site from 6am Friday with the start of all-out strike action. Bread production workers are seeking a 10 percent pay increase - 90.5 percent of them voted to strike.

Asked why it felt action at one site could potentially have such an impact on NI bread supplies, the union responded that the facility produces “at least” 50% of all NI’s bread.

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“In addition, we understand that they are operating at about 150% of capacity at present - reflecting the demand for bread,” a union spokesman said. “So this is likely to have a substantial impact”.

The News Letter has invited Hovis, The Department of Economy and Retail NI for their perspective on the claims and situation.

Sean McKeever, Unite Regional Officer, called on Hovis management to move swiftly to address his members’ pay demand.

“Our members, and those of the Baker’s union, at Hovis bakery in Belfast have given their unions an overwhelming mandate for industrial action, up to and including strike action,” he said. “Unite members voted with a 90.5 percent majority on an exceptionally high turnout for action to secure their objective of a 10 percent pay increase.

“We have notified the employer that in the absence of any movement from them to address their employees’ pay claim, pickets will be going up from 6am on Friday, May 14th. Our members, and those of the Baker’s union, will be commencing all-out strike action after that time.

“In the absence of any movement from management side, and given the significant role of Hovis in local bread production, it is likely that industrial action will result in bread shortages in Northern Ireland. We are therefore calling on Hovis to move swiftly to avoid the unnecessary disruption that will occur if they force this strike.”

Hovis responded that the pay demands being made are “unsustainable”.

A company spokesman said: “Unions representing staff at the Hovis (Ireland) Belfast site have balloted their members for strike action. Hovis has made an above inflation pay offer of 2.5% each year for three years which we believe is fair and reasonable given current market conditions. The claim made by both unions is for a 10.5% pay increase, with additional elements taking it to approximately 15%, which is clearly unsustainable.

“Hovis is disappointed to hear the results of ballots for strike action, given how unsustainable the claim is. We continue to seek a resolution that is acceptable to all sides and are committed to reaching a conclusion to this action as soon as possible.

“We operate in a tough and competitive market subject to increasingly higher operating costs but still offer pay and conditions that are market comparable as we continue to sustainably grow the business.”

Glyn Roberts, Retail NI Chief Executive said: “Whilst this is an internal issue for the company and its staff, it is a concerning situation for many of our retailers who sell Hovis’s brands and for their customers who buy them”

“I hope all sides in this dispute can find a speedy resolution to avoid any disruption in trade”

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