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28 Jul 2022

Neal Keeling, Manchester Evening News

UK: Workers at Cranswick Continental Foods stage wildcat strike as workers report low pay & feeling ‘mentally & physically' affected by lack of breaks

"Wildcat strike at Bury food firm as staff clash with management over pay and conditions", 28 July 2022

A wildcat strike has been staged at a large Bury food company. Both today and yesterday scores of staff did not go into work at Cranswick Continental Foods in Pilsworth. Early today about 100 workers gathered at the gates of the plant where there are no unions.

They are in dispute with management over working conditions and pay. Several workers said an issue over not being allowed to take proper breaks when working on a production line with low temperatures was the crux of the stoppage, with claims that staff were "marshalled" when taking a break and ordered back to work if they took too long. But others also spoke of disquiet over low wages.

The company insists it provides adequate breaks above the statutory requirement but said it had been concerned that a small number of workers were abusing two ten-minute "comfort breaks", which still remain in place, in addition to a 30 minute lunch break....

One worker told the Manchester Evening News: "In the mornings I am giving a lift to some of my colleagues because they can't afford to come to work in their own car. We need better conditions, and to be treated like human beings and the wages have to go up - they have to do something about it. I am sure they are aware that the cost of living is too high...

Some staff say they work in temperatures of eight to ten degrees.

Another worker said: "...Many of us are not allowed to have a proper break. We can have a glass of water then we are back down on the production line. The workers feel mentally and physically affected by this. We do have a half hour break which is taken but have two subsequent ten minute breaks which are not in the contract but are the custom of the company in which you can go into the canteen and have a drink then you have to go straight back.

"A lot of people feel that because of the targets they have to meet during that break time they need to rest, have a coffee. Generally they have marshalls now in the canteen and they send you back on the line. Workers are packing and cutting and preparing meats for supermarkets."...

"We are asking for a proper break where you can have a drink or a cigarette. Eight hours in that environment when they have increased the production timings it is a problem not having a rest. We even have line managers who have not gone in to work. Because it is a walk out it is done on an individual basis and we are promised there will be no retaliation," the worker added...

Site director at Cranswick, Mike Palmer said: "The welfare of our employees is out number one priority, which is why we allow all our colleagues a formal break as well as a discretionary comfort break during their shifts. We have recently reminded our colleagues of this policy, and a small number believe we are looking to remove this enhanced provision, this is not the case. We have met with our team today and are working with the team on their concerns and hope to have a resolution as soon as possible."

He added: "We really value our employees and offer enhanced benefits, good development, good training. We have a grading structure in place, which means people can join us and continue to improve their earnings as they develop their skills within the business." He said staff were surveyed regularly to gauge their views and to identify "hot topics".