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Council puts pressure on 2 Sisters Food Group

Pressure is mounting on 2 Sisters Food Group to compromise over proposed changes to workers’ terms and conditions at Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle.

The company wants 800 permanent staff at the ready-meals factory to accept changes to over-time rates, sick pay, redundancy terms and bank-holiday working.

The workforce rejected the proposals by two to one.

Now the company, a major supplier to Marks & Spencer, is threatening to impose new contracts.

Carlisle City Council has passed a resolution calling on 2 Sisters and the union Usdaw to “negotiate in good faith to achieve a mutually-agreed and reasonable settlement”.

Proposing the motion, Harraby Labour councillor Lee Sherriff said: “It is a workplace kept running efficiently by goodwill and mutual respect between workers and owners.

“The proposed changes are likely to damage this goodwill for ever.”

She said workers understood the need to make savings and were willing to negotiate.

But 2 Sisters had filed papers giving notice of possible redundancies.

Councillor Sherriff said: “Workers feel intimidated and undervalued by these harsh tactics.

“We have a duty to protect the people of Carlisle from unfairness and exploitation.”

Another Labour councillor, Paul Atkinson, accused 2 Sisters of “negotiation by threat and intimidation”.

Nobody voted against the resolution.

But Liberal Democrat Trevor Allison abstained because his son works at Cavaghan & Gray.

He was worried that, if the council intervened in the dispute, it might send out the wrong message to other businesses considering a move to Carlisle.

Conservative John Mallinson said he could support the motion because it was even handed.

He added: “I am sure the factory owners have real issues with competitiveness in the harsh economic climate.

“I know the MP [John Stevenson] is becoming involved and I hope his good offices will bring a negotiated settlement with a little bit of dignity to all concerned.”

The News & Star understands that 2 Sisters has no plans for mass redundancies.

If a settlement is not reached, it would dismiss workers and re-engage them on new contracts with fewer benefits.

Those who declined to accept would lose their jobs. The company is in a 90-day consultation on the changes.

A spokesman said: “We’ve noted the comments from local councillors and we are currently working through the consultation process in good faith. This remains a consultation between the company, union representatives and employee representatives.

“We remain hopeful that a workable outcome can be achieved to help the Carlisle site remain competitive and viable into the future.”

The changes would reduce sick pay, redundancy terms and overtime and bank holiday payments, and restrict paid time off for hospital appointments.

The company also wants to scrap a good-attendance bonus and an ill-health termination agreement, streamline the grievance procedure and move weekly-paid staff to monthly salaries.

Source: www.newsandstar.co.uk – 19 July 2012