The UK’s largest trades union Unite said up to 430 of its members were planning several 36-hour stoppages at the company’s production site from January 27.
The 11 strikes over 10 weeks followed the juice giant’s refusal to fully negotiate the introduction of pay rates that would see new employees receive £5,000 less than long term employees, said Unite.
Cuts to overtime
Other changes involve cuts to overtime and bank holiday pay and alterations to holiday entitlements, according to the trades union.
The production operators, engineers and warehouse workers would be striking from 06:45 on January 27 until 19:00 on January 28, Unite confirmed. Further 36-hour stoppages beginning on February 2, 4, 12, 18 and 27, March 2, 12, 18, 24 and April 1 would follow.
A majority of Unite members voted in favour of industrial action at a ballot earlier this month.
“Loyal staff who have worked hard to make Refresco Gerber Europe’s biggest juice manufacturer feel betrayed by plans to railroad through cuts to their pay, terms and conditions,” said Unite regional officer Roy Winter.
“They are angry that their modest working conditions are being torn up in a bid to squeeze every last drop of profit out of them. This further attack on their terms and conditions will deepen the daily struggle to make ends meet that a majority of the workforce face.
Refresco Gerber was formed last year out of a merger between drinks manufacturer Refresco and bottling company Gerber Emig.
In a statement on the planned strikes, a spokeswoman for the UK business said an extensive review following the merger had indicated changes were needed to enable it to stay flexible and competitive.
She stressed that the number of Unite members backing the strike represented only a fifth of total staff numbers and that contingency plans existed to ensure the firm would meet customer service commitments.
“We are disappointed that this decision has been reached as we have worked hard to protect pay levels and held positive one-on-one discussions with the team over the last month with 95% accepting the new employment terms,” she said. “The majority of the workforce just wants to get on with the job in hand.”
Refresco Gerber announced last year that it was exploring either a public sale of shares on the stock market or a straight sale to an interested investor.
Latest reports from Reuters cited private equity outfits PAI Partners, Pamplona Capital Management and Platinum Equity as the only named bidders in the second round of an auction. The deadline for bid submissions is understood to be sometime in late February.
Refresco Gerber produces supermarket own-label products for Waitrose, Asda and Tesco and works with brands such as Innocent, Del Monte and Ocean Spray. It claims to be the UK’s largest juice producer producing 630M litres of juice a year.