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UK – Breadmakers strike again over zero hours contracts

12 September 2013

Workers at the Hovis bakery in Wigan have walked out for a second time in less than a month in a dispute over zero-hours contracts, reports the Guardian. Around 220 production staff began a second seven-day strike over the use of agency workers employed on zero-hours terms in the bakery. The action follows a one-week strike that began last month, with a further strike threatened for the end of September.

Premier Foods, which owns Hovis, recently announced it was scrapping zero-hours contracts for its staff, but is refusing to stop using agency staff on the controversial terms.

Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, said ending zero-hours contracts was a hollow agreement when the bakery continued to employ agency staff on zero-hours contracts. "It is keeping [zero-hours] going, but having someone else to blame. [Our members] don't see why working people should have to suffer low pay, no terms and conditions, and no job security. Wigan is not a hotbed for employment as it is. To reduce people's pay down to minimum wage with minimum security is just unfair."

Richard Johnson of Premier Foods defended the use of employing agency staff on zero-hour contracts. "We do need this flexibility on agency cover at certain points of the year." Mr Johnson advised that the factory in Wigan, which employs 350 people, had no more than 10 agency workers at any one time.

Premier Foods recently moved the last remaining Hovis employees off zero-hours contracts. The company said it had been planning this move for several months, although the union has claimed a victory for its zero-hours campaign.

Ian Hodson added: "These people have done something that no one else I believe have managed to achieve. If other people across the country take that approach what we will see is an end to exploitation and the use of these awful contracts."

The end of zero-hours contracts has led to the creation of 24 full-time jobs at the Wigan bakery this year, although 26 workers in the distribution division lost their jobs earlier in the year as part of a nationwide plan of 900 job cuts

The Wigan factory accounts for 10% of Hovis's total output of bakery goods, but the company has insisted that supplies of sliced bread and crumpets won't be hit.

"It shouldn't affect [supply] at all," said Johnson. "We are using managers and non-union staff to keep the factory running."

The strike came amid growing concern over the use of zero hours contracts. In a speech to the TUC this week, opposition leader Ed Miliband vowed to stop the abuses of zero hours contracts, but did not commit to their eradication. 

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