“We have a choice to make right now as we face further increases in energy prices, fuel and national insurance contributions not to mention food and other every day costs of living.”
By Sarah Wooley, BFAWU General Secretary
Sarah Wooley was speaking at “Workers Can’t Wait – urgent action to address the cost-of-living crisis” on Wednesday, 16th March. You can read her contribution below or watch the meeting full:
I want to use my contribution to talk about the sharp end of the cost of living crisis, the reality for a group of workers up in Scotland, many of who are BFAWU members, that have been horrendously let down by their now ex-employer in a legal loophole that has protected him and left them penniless.
At the end of last year redundancy talks started at one of our branches, nothing out of the ordinary there you may say especially after the last couple of years, they seemed to be going ok for redundancy talks, with enhancements negotiated and talks of re-settlement packages so those who could would be able to continue working for the company at their other site in Arbroath.
Then out of the blue on the 28th February administrators took over the Dawnfresh factory in Uddingston Scotland. There were staff in that day working overtime, who were told part way through that shift to go home and informed they wouldn’t be receiving their wages the following Friday.
Now people don’t work overtime for the fun or joy of it, they work overtime shifts because there is a need for extra wages and we know as the cost of living continues to rise, for those in the food sector who are predominantly low paid more and more of our members will be battling for overtime shifts to help make ends meet and scrape by.
These workers at Dawnfresh have worked hard throughout the pandemic, processing some of the best seafood in the world, are low paid weekly workers. Many have partners and grown up children working in the factory and overnight they have been plunged into a position where they have no wages coming in that week or going forwards. With no way of having been able to prepare for that situation and absolutely no idea of when they would receive the monies owed to them or whether they would be able to get a new job quick enough to stop them from loosing their home or falling into irreversible debt.
We were told by some a few days after the closure that they had been forced into going to their local foodbank as they live week to week on the wages they earn and as they hadn’t come in couldn’t even go food shopping and really didn’t know how they were going to survive.
This is all bad enough on its own, but the owner of Dawnfresh is one of the richest men in Scotland, a billionaire, who made sure his expensive paintings were taken out of the factory before the administrators went in so they weren’t frozen as assets – who didn’t think twice about plunging the very people who have worked hard for him for many many years in some cases into absolute poverty rather than going through with his promises through the redundancy process and paying them what they were owed.
It makes my blood boil – the most diplomatic way I have of putting it without swearing.
This just goes to show the stark difference between the working class people who have kept the nation fed in our members case over the last two years, told they are key workers and in receipt of claps for it and the elite billionaires who have got richer off the back of them, and literally get away with pulling the rug out from under workers feet without a second thought leaving them in absolute poverty.
Its disgusting that a billionaire can take the easy way out, resolve themselves of the responsibility of paying workers what they are owed after months of negotiations, make sure they are able to protect their wealth and leave those workers without even enough money to get a food shop in.
We have a choice to make right now as we face further increases in energy prices, fuel and national insurance contributions not to mention food and other every day costs of living.
Do we continue to let the rich get richer whilst we are forced into paying back rebates on energy bills that we haven’t asked for, see our friends and colleagues rely more and more on food banks and struggle to survive, as terms and conditions are stripped in favour of their increase in profits or do we say “no more!” – do we remember that collectively we are powerful and that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a food operative, a teacher or public sector worker – that we as a class really are all in this together and only by standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity collectively can we drive the change we need in order for our members and our communities to thrive.
Because as I have said on many platforms we cant rely on the Government to do the right thing, they have shown time and time again they are more interested in parties and giving their rich friends more money on the back of our struggle as has been highlighted with the situation faced by our members at Dawnfresh
its scary, we’re tired after the last couple of years and everything COVID and the fall out has thrown at us on top of over a decade of austerity and the ever rising cost of living, but we have got to dig deep and make a stand, take inspiration from members in the likes of UCU, RMT and all the other members who are balloting and taking industrial action and follow the lead of PCS consulting their members on what action they are willing to take to fight back.
Because we all know it wasn’t the millionaires, bankers and elite that have got us through this pandemic it was teachers, public sector workers, posties, food manufacturers, tube and rail, NHS and retail staff and many other Key workers that were celebrated but that are struggling to make ends meet and we shouldn’t be left footing the bill for the governments mistakes and mishandlings.
We have to stand together, build our movement support and empower each other, so that workers like our members from Dawnfresh aren’t left out in the cold again in a legal loophole that protects the billionaire and plunges the low paid workers into poverty.
- Sarah Wooley is the General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU). This article is a published version of her speech given at the “Workers Can’t Wait – urgent action to address the cost-of-living crisis” on Wednesday, 16th March. You can watch it in full here, or watch Sarah’s contribution here.
- Please follow Sarah Wooley on twitter here, and the BFAWU on twitter and Facebook.