Meat workers’ action to hit high streets

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By Paul Haste |

A THREATENED strike by meat workers fighting to prevent a jobs slaughter could leave Britain’s supermarket shelves empty this Easter.

More than 2,300 abattoir workers and meat packers across Britain began voting in a strike ballot on Tuesday in response to their bosses’ proposals for savage job cuts.

Huge multinational food corporation Vion announced the redundancies in January, yet union Unite was hopeful of preserving at least some jobs, pointing out that the company had seen its profits soar 33 per cent to £200 million last year.

But Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley revealed on Tuesday that Vion executives had been stone-walling union negotiators, refusing to even discuss the plans to slash 900 jobs at several meat plants in Britian.

Some 200 workers’ livelihoods at Vion’s site in Cambuslang, near Glasgow, will be ended and as many as 500 jobs will be axed at an abbatoir in Haverhill in Suffolk, while more posts will go at the firm’s Welsh Country Foods subsidiary.

“Vion’s tactics have been appalling and underhand,” Mr Woodley stormed, exposing executives’ moves to short-circuit the legal 90 days’ notice period for redundancies by telling some workers that their jobs would be axed by the end of March.

“This company wants 900 loyal members of staff out of the door before they have time to think, and they will not even discuss these job cuts with the union,” he stressed.

Mr Woodley said that as a result, “Unite has no choice but to ballot its members for strike action.”

A vote for a strike at a company where Unite activists recently won a hard-fought, two-year campaign to organise the workers, could hit meat supplies to all the major supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, within weeks.

Unite national secretary for food workers Chris Kaufman urged Vion bosses to “stop the clock ticking on redundancy notices” and “explore all options to avoid the cuts” at the negotiating table.

He pointed out that the company’s profits were healthy and accused Vion of using the recession as an excuse to sack workers.

“There is an element of opportunism in this,” Mr Kaufman suggested.