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UK – Bread makers to strike over agency workers on zero-hour contracts

28 August 2013

Staff at a large bakery are preparing to begin a week-long strike today over the introduction of agency workers on zero-hours contracts, according to the Guardian. The strike at the Hovis bakery is expected to impact bread deliveries in the Northwest. 

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which represents 230 of the 357 employees at the Wigan bakery, is campaigning against the introduction of agency staff on zero-hour contracts that do not specify set working hours and give limited guarantees on conditions.

Hovis owners, Premier Foods, have been in talks with union officials in an attempt to fend off the strike and said it hoped operations would continue as normal.

Premier Foods commented: "We are disappointed that we have not been able to resolve the dispute and will continue to search for a satisfactory outcome, accepting that the limited use of agency labour to cover seasonal peaks, holiday and sickness absence is an integral part of our operational flexibility that is understood and accepted by all our other sites."

The BFAWU said agency workers were brought in almost immediately after about 30 permanent staff were made redundant in April. The union fears that Premier Foods plans to use agency workers to take on work that is likely to fall to the Wigan bakery after the closure of Hovis bakeries in Birmingham and London.

A leading charity investigating the effects of zero-hour contracts on workers has condemned government plans for a review of the controversial employment terms.

Calling for a wider investigation into the zero-hours phenomenon, the Work Foundation revealed a disparity between sectors using zero-hours contracts. It said almost one in five workers in the hospitality industry were on zero-hour contracts, while 7% of retail staff were employed with no guarantee of work each week.

There has also been an increase in care workers on the contracts from 50%, between 2008 and 2009, to 60% last year. The government has estimated there are 307,000 care workers on zero-hours contracts, despite previous estimates from the Office for National Statistics that Britain's zero-hour workforce is 250,000 people.

Ian Brinkley, director of the Work Foundation, said: "The investigation announced by [the business secretary] Vince Cable is inadequate. A fuller investigation would enable accurate analysis and such data would help devise effective policy measures and map out best employment practice to protect workers most vulnerable to potential abuse."

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