“The story of this dispute is not just about a local spat between workers and management in two East Midlands factories, it is a story of corporate greed & a business model predicated on the acquisition of assets.”
By Willie Howard, Unite the Union organiser.
In what is fast-becoming one of Britain’s most prominent industrial disputes, 70 plant engineers working for Weetabix are currently entering their eighth week of strike action at both the company’s Northamptonshire plants. These Unite members who have worked throughout the pandemic are fighting back against attempts by the company to ‘fire and rehire’ them on terms and conditions that would leave some of them up to £5000 a year worse off. While Weetabix is at pains to publicly stress this isn’t a case of ‘fire and rehire’, their own proposals directly stated their intention to “terminate and re-engage” staff. On top of this direct attack on workers’ remuneration, engineers would also face new working practices involving lone working at night which they believe presents a health and safety risk.
This raises the question as to why Weetabix is seeking to implement these cuts to workers’ take home. The stark reality of the situation is that there is no legitimate business case for these attacks whatsoever. Weetabix as a stand-alone company is immensely profitable and conversely to many other businesses, it saw its profits skyrocket throughout the Pandemic. Profits jumped by 18% in the year 2020, up from 9% the year before that. Likewise, they have posted profits of over £80m as a result of increased amounts of people having breakfast at home as a result of lockdown and home-working. The sheer scale of profits become even more eye-watering when we consider Weetabix’s parent company – Post Holdings, a huge multinational conglomerate based in St Louis in the USA. Post Holdings’ investors range from investment banks to hedge funds and last year they posted net profits of well over $200m. Interestingly, Post Holdings is in turn owned by a parent company registered in the Cayman Islands. Readers can deduce for themselves the reasons behind this.
The story of this dispute is not just about a local spat between workers and management in two East Midlands factories, it is a story of corporate greed and a business model predicated on the acquisition of assets, driving profit at any cost and tossing people on the scrapheap whenever it’s convenient to do so. While Weetabix likes to play up its status as a ‘British heritage brand’ who sponsors sports teams; it is now presiding over a process whereby money is being actively sucked out of working class communities in the towns of Burton Latimer and Corby and then decanted into the bank accounts of oligarchs based abroad.
It should also be stressed that Weetabix are but the latest in a long and shameful line of companies lining up to use ‘Fire and Rehire’. Across Britain we have seen staggering numbers of workers subjected to this practice. Like the Banking Crisis of 2008, the Covid Pandemic has provided an opportunity for swathes of big capital to implement another “shock doctrine”, seizing on economic instability and uncertainty to attempt to roll back wages, pensions and other terms and conditions in pursuit of greater profits. In doing this, they have been openly facilitated by the current government. While Fire and Rehire is banned in other countries like France and Ireland, here in the UK we have Conservative MPs deliberately obstructing proposed legislation to even mitigate its use.
While the above may paint a bleak picture, the actions of the Weetabix Engineers have been nothing short of inspiring. They have taken protracted strike action in the face of every union-busting trick in the book and Weetabix are now so desperate for staff they are offering £1000 bonuses for scab workers to undertake shifts. On top of this, Unite has launched a campaign to shine a spotlight on Weetabix’ actions. Over 100 protests have taken place outside supermarkets in Britain and Ireland, over 25k people and counting have signed a petition and now the union is planning on escalating this to show the true face behind “The Nation’s Favourite”.
Unite is backing these workers with its unique strike fund however as Christmas approaches pressure on these workers will be increasing in please get in touch to offer solidarity and financial donations.
Ordinary people have rallied behind the Weetabix workers not only because they recognise the injustice of what’s happening, but also because they realise they could well be next. A victory for these workers is a victory for anyone who goes to work on a daily basis to put food on the table. We need to show that there is a movement behind them.
- Please donate in support – Strike fund details are Sort Code: 60-83-01, Account Number: 20173975.
- Show your support at https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/weetabix-no-to-fire-and-rehire