Union bosses are warning of meat supply disruption this Easter, as they ballot for strike action against one of the UK’s largest meat suppliers.
Vion, the Dutch-owned giant, which recently bought the Grampian Food Group for more than £350m, recently announced up to 820 job losses as part of a restructuring exercise.
In a protest over redundancies, the union Unite has balloted 2,300 of Vion’s 14,000 workers in the UK on strike action. Unite claimed a vote in favour of strike action could mean that supplies of meat to supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer (M&S), would be affected in the run-up to the Easter break. However, Rob Smith, head of communications for Vion UK, said: "We will continue to focus on delivering to meet all our customers’ requirements." The job cuts will see 150 go from Vion’s Cambuslang site in Scotland, around 200 jobs are to go at Malton and 470 in Haverhill. The company is proposing to close its abattoir, butchery, and some elements of its retail operations at its Haverhill site and to transfer these operations to the Malton site.. At the same time, Vion is proposing to transfer all cooked meats operations currently based at its Malton site to Haverhill.
The company said the redundancy decision was based on a business review, following the purchase of the Grampian business. A further potential 50 job cuts have also been announced from the Welsh Country Food site in Anglesey, which the company said was reorganising to reflect changes in consumer demand.
Unite accused Vion of refusing to even discuss the job losses, or slow down the process to allow it to carry out negotiations with the union. It said the company had only given workers at Welsh Country Foods just 30 days’ notice of dismissal, and it accused Vion of being "opportunistic" in the face of the credit crunch. Unite’s joint general secretary Tony Woodley said:
"We believe Vion’s tactics have been appalling and underhand. This firm wants 900 loyal members of staff out of the door before they have time to think. They will not even discuss these job cuts on a national basis with the union. It’s madness to try to make cuts across a number of sites without national discussions."
"We’re aware of Unite balloting its members at Vion sites. That membership counts for 15% of our workforce. At this stage, it would be premature to comment until we’ve seen the outcome of that ballot. We remain committed to working with and communicating with our employees and their elected representatives, and remain committed to the consultation process."