Workers at Heinz' Wigan factory are threatening strike action over what they say is a catalogue of exploitation and unfair treatment by the employer. The below was written by a worker at the factory, who wishes to remain anonymous.
"I first contacted media in September 2017 regarding the conditions at Heinz, Kitt Green. I highlighted the insecurity of those on zero hours contracts, which some have been on for many years, and the poor treatment of so called "temporary workers".
Heinz responded stating "Those individuals employed by Randstad on temporary contracts are fully aware of the terms and conditions of their contract and continue to choose to be employed on such terms"
This is a ridiculous statement. No one here chooses a zero hours contract over a full time contract. They do so because they have no other choice apart from state benefits. Also mentioned was the fact night time wages were cut. Workers lost £200 pound a month, cancelling out any pay rise in the last 10 years. In the same period inflation has gone up 23.5%
Since my last contact I can honestly say nothing much has changed at Heinz. In fact it has got worse. It isn't just the temporary workers who are being treated unfairly, but also the full timers. There are full time jobs being cut year on year at Heinz, the latest being in the warehouse. The workers in those positions basically have a choice. Either relocate into the factory or take voluntary redundancy. This has a knock-on effect as it puts temporary workers in the factory out of work – some of whom have been at Heinz for many years.
Since February 2013 when Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital purchased Heinz, there has been a steady stream of voluntary redundancies. Full time workers are not being replaced by more full timers, but agency staff filling the gap.
The workforce is being cut in all departments. Jobs that were for two people are now for only one. This is putting pressure on employees and stretching the workforce to the maximum. It has also reduced the shifts available for temporary staff. There are too many temporary workers now for the amount of work, forcing people into poverty, left in limbo having to survive on 1 days work each week. This is no way to treat staff who have given Heinz years of loyal service.
Factory managers have been giving vouchers to full time staff, they have been having their pictures taken with them while shaking their hands to thank them for their service, as they have been there 10 to 20 years. But some temporary workers have also been there 10 to 20 years - they have no such recognition. The only reward temporary workers get is 1 day a week’s work - and to sit around waiting for a text to know what work is next available.
Recently the treatment of temporary workers has reached an all time low. Staff are being asked to work 4 hour shifts and are also being sent home halfway through shifts when they aren't needed. How is anyone supposed to survive with a 4 hour shift?
This also has an impact on the shift premium that workers get paid on their wages for working a 39 hour week. Someone who has worked a 39 hour week gets a higher shift rate then someone who works a couple of hours less. So it makes sense to lay someone off for a few hours to save money. Yet again the company are thinking of their own self interest, maximising profits by avoiding paying premiums to hardworking and loyal workers.
Temporary workers have also been told to attend shifts an hour late so that managers can have meetings with full time staff. Not only are temporary workers losing pay, but they are being excluded from these meetings. Again agency staff are treated like second class workers.
The recruitment agency Randstad have also been making mistakes with people's wages, week in week out. Staff are having to phone them up to basically beg for their wages. There have been cases of people waiting 2 months to get what they are owed. You can just imagine how much pressure this puts on working families already living on the breadline. Staff have had to go to foodbanks because of these mistakes. This treatment is disgusting not only to the workers of Heinz but to the families of Wigan and surrounding areas who have relied on Heinz as a trusted employer for 60 years.
You may wonder how they have managed to get away with this for so long? The reason is the inside union have chose to turn a blind eye to what is happening. Temporary workers are too scared to speak up in case they get laid off. Our union of past decades fought for better pay and conditions which is slowly being eroded. We owe it to those workers to stand together and fight against what it happening. It has taken intervention from the regional union branch in Liverpool in order for the voices of the workers to be heard.
A meeting is to be held on the 13th of April at 11:00am at Worsley Mesnes Club, Pool Stock Lane, Wigan. It is essential that we as workers take action. A recent statement has been issued by "Unite The Union" regarding the current situation.
"A number of workers have informed us of the fact, that despite many years of service at Heinz on full time contracts, Randstad are arbitrarily forcing these workers including our Unite members onto zero hours contracts. Whilst this is being unfairly implemented Randstad have continued with a steady influx of new labour, and that new staff are given full time working.
As a consequence this has meant that many of our members are compelled to sit and wait on a day to day basis for a text that may give work the next day. Often securing only one shift a week. Such a blatant and fundamental breach inflicts the obvious financial detriment.
Dignity, is a fundamental human right that extend to every workplace including Heinz. There is no dignity for any individual forced to sit waiting to see if they may secure work. It renders impossible the chance to plan a life around such a schedule. It inflicts extreme poverty, which threatens people's right to life itself and makes impossible the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms essential to a humane way of life.
Unite are concerned at this unfair and callous treatment of our members, and because of information received a report has gone to our legal team and there is a collective grievance for all workers to sign and show their support."
There is nothing temporary about a skilled worker who has served in a factory for 10 to 20 years. The employment of agency staff is just a clever way of suppressing workers rights and curbing union power. Temporary workers aren't just second class workers. They are second class citizens and it is time for this abhorrent treatment of workers to come to an end.
We must call for an outright ban on the use of zero hour contracts at Heinz. It isn't just agency staff at risk, but also full timers. As once full timers are in the minority, there will be no one left to challenge management. Agency staff will be too scared to speak out and conditions and wages will slip even further. I feel if we don't act now we may not get another chance.
It is time for us Heinz workers to take action. We must demand security as we cannot stand by and allow things to stay the way they are. We all have one common interest and now is the time to come together. The Heinz factory cannot function without us. Without us the workers there are no profits, nor big bonuses. This is something they forget when they treat us with disdain. Only we the workers have the power to change what is happening. We cannot stand by and we must act now.
One of the oldest quotes from the Labour movement is "United we stand, divided we fall". I would like all Heinz workers to keep this in mind. Do we allow our fellow comrades to continue to be degraded and live without dignity? Or do we stand together and fight for change and fight for what is clearly right? This is the choice ahead of us. It's time to show the nation that working class people still have power.