Strike on hold as NI meat factory bosses and union to hold talks

Strike at ABP Meats
Strike at ABP Meats
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Workers at a Co Armagh meat factory have suspended strike action while conciliation talks take place.

Late on Monday afternoon UNITE the union issued a statement saying they, along with management from ABP Meats in Lurgan, would be going to talks with the Labour Relations Agency.

UNITE regional officer Brian Hewitt explained that the 24 hour strike at the meat factory had been put on hold to facilitate talks.

He said the picket would finish and workers would be back to work today (Tuesday).

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Mr Hewitt said the parties were set to engage with the LRA following today’s action.

He said: “240 Unite members at ABP Lurgan, spanning six different nationalities, have been on the picket line since 6 am this morning (Monday) in a dispute centred on the company’s decision to offer a below-inflation pay increase while also seeking to unilaterally impose earlier shift start times which will make childcare arrangements even more difficult for the low-paid workforce.

“The strength of the workers’ action today reduced production at ABP to one line with fewer than 30 people.”

Mr Hewitt said: “On a cold and wet November day, our members have been heartened by the support they’ve received from the local community, from workers in other factories, and from the wider trade union movement. Each beep of a passing horn or donation of coffee and pastries has encouraged our members to stand firm.

“Following today’s (Monday’s) action, both parties will participate in talks at the Labour Relations Agency where Unite will engage constructively and in good faith. No one should be in any doubt: our members remain determined to use the kind of strength and solidarity displayed today to defend their and their families’ living standards”, Mr Hewitt said.

There had been a disagreement over the numbers who went on strike with the union claiming 230 were out but a company source saying that of the 330 workers only 121 voted to strike.

Mr Hewitt had earlier said the strike on Monday is the first in a series of planned stoppages with pickets placed at the gates from 6am.

Mr Hewitt said:  “Low-paid ABP workers in Lurgan cannot avoid their family responsibilities – and the new shift times will make it almost impossible for them to make childcare arrangements.  The offer of a derisory pay increase while also seeking to impose anti-family shift starts is an insult to a committed workforce which has built the success of ABP.  Management’s aggressive approach has left the workers with no option but to take strike action.

“If they want to ensure that production lines run smoothly in the run-up to Christmas, management needs to come to the table with realistic pay increases which reflect our members’ living costs, and they need to engage in meaningful discussions with the workers on shift times. ABP should be in no doubt that our members are determined to defend their and their families’ living standards”, Mr Hewitt said.

A factory source said the firm had been in negotiations with UNITE since February 2019.

It is understood the company was asked by the union on Friday night at 8.30 that it wanted to enter into negotiations through the LRA and ABP agreed to this in the understanding that strike action would be removed.

While the talks were scheduled for today Monday 4th November at the office of the LRA, it is understood the union proposed further action on Friday 8th November 2019.

A source said: “All negotiations should be in good faith, therefore the company cannot negotiate whilst there is a threat of industrial action.”

The company also had disputed the numbers on industrial action. The source said: “We have 330 colleagues on the shop floor and of those 121 voted for industrial action which is only 36% of our workforce.”

Regarding employee start times, which has been one of the reasons for the dispute, the firm said it had worked ‘exhaustively with the shop stewards and the union to reach an agreement’.

A source within the firm said: “The company has already compromised on a number of occasions and we see our offer as fair and reasonable and this had been endorsed by the union at the time.

“We took on board your comments in relation to the 7.00am start after engaging with staff who had concerns and proposed a 7.30am start. We also consulted with the local childcare facilities and had made arrangements to facilitate this.”

In a statement last night (Monday night) an ABP spokesperson said: “It was always ABP’s position to engage fully in conciliation talks through the Labour Relations Agency in good faith and we now look forward to doing that. Today’s actions could have been avoided if the union had accepted a previous offer of talks at the LRA.”