Whilst it’s fantastic to have some sustained nice weather in the UK for a change, we need to consider those who work across the food sector and the implications relating to the work they do, which will no doubt include a significant amount of discomfort and risk.
Bakeries, kitchens and other food manufacturing areas can become almost unbearable during the summer and employers should ensure that their workers are protected, even if it means implementing some special measures during this period of extremely hot weather. The following should be able to assist our Safety Representatives in the workplace.
These other links (including our 'Cool It' survey) are also useful:
The BFAWU has always argued that Representatives and companies should work together in their Safety Committees and plan well in advance how they are going to deal with the hot weather when it arrives. That way, businesses can continue to function properly and workers won't have to be put at risk.
Please stay safe.
After being responsible for successfully moving a motion around climate change at the TUC in 2017, calling amongst other things for a just transition to a renewable energy industry, energy democracy and recognition of environmental reps, the BFAWU has been working away in the background to develop our environmental strategy.
We are working on adapting the current Health and Safety Reps role to include an environmental aspect – transitioning into safety, health and environment reps (SHE) and we have published a new newsletter, Green Stuff, which will be published every 3 months. It will be available to download here on the website and also from the Facebook page @BFAWUGreenstuff and Twitter page @BFAWUS which will also contain regular updates on what’s happening
If you have anything to go into the newsletter, any feedback, or just want to know more, please email sarah.woolley@bfawu with the subject "green stuff".
Michael Gove has been an influential figure in the Conservative Party for a good while, now. He’s been in and around the government in various guises since 2010 (education, justice, environment) and has a number of connections, including Rupert Murdoch and the Henry Jackson Society. Despite a bungled attempt to become Prime Minister after David Cameron did a runner following the EU Referendum in 2016, he is likely to remain among the main contenders to take over from the increasingly powerless Theresa May, should she eventually run out of road.
Unfortunately for the people we represent in the food industry, Mr Gove is using his current role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make the case for automation, at the expense of jobs. In a wide-ranging speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, which began on January 3rd 2018, Gove outlined his belief that food and drink manufacturers should move towards automated production systems, rather than relying on “low-cost migrant workers”. He told FoodManuafacture.co.uk: “We want to ensure that people recognise you cannot rely on importing an endless supply of cheap labour in order to maintain a competitive edge”.
Firstly, it’s curious that Michael Gove should immediately focus on the migrant element of labour involved in the food industry. Food manufacture is one of the UK’s most profitable and yet, sadly exploited industries in terms of workers, who themselves come from all walks of life and aren’t simply ‘imported migrants’. The BFAWU has long argued that food workers play an essential part in the success of the UK economy and should be properly rewarded for their efforts. We believe that trained, well paid, motivated workforces keep businesses successful and profitable, whilst keeping staff turnover to a minimum, thus protecting their skills-base. Indeed, only recently Warburtons worked with the BFAWU to secure a package for their employees that invested significantly in their terms and conditions, skills and quality of life. This investment in people, rather than automation won’t make Warburtons less competitive; in fact it will more than likely strengthen their status as the UK’s market leader in bread.
We should know by now what happens when workers are poorly paid, poorly trained and are deterred from joining Trade Unions; greedy bosses cut corners, the quality of food and hygiene standards fall and workers are exploited. We need strict regulations and control of the food industry, which protects workers, retains skills in the labour market and ensures top quality products for customers and consumers. The UK food industry deserves workers who are trained to the highest standards and paid properly, not robots knocking out cheap products in a soulless, de-regulated system, just to satisfy CEOs and share-holders.
What concerns the BFAWU and its members about Gove’s sudden dash for automation, is the threat he now carries to countless jobs across the country. In his Oxford Farming Conference speech, he demonstrated a total lack of understanding of our industry and showed complete contempt for those who work in it. His strategy for economic growth, competition, investment and profitability in UK manufacturing amounts to nothing other than a ‘Final Solution’ for the people we represent in a vital industry.
Since 2010, the Conservatives have proven themselves to be the champions of zero hour contracts, job insecurity and low pay. Rather than put forward meaningful and credible strategies to create job opportunities, invest in skills and improve pay in food manufacture, they have decided to pursue an agenda that fails both workers, their families and the industry as a whole. This is nothing other than a jobs-grab and Michael Gove has officially put all UK food industry workers on notice. It’s now down to those that work within it to respond; and he can be damned sure that they will.
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)
The right to join a trade union and the right to collective bargaining are basic, human rights recognised by the UN International Labour Organisation.
Yet many well-known multi-national companies do NOT recognise trade unions, and do not negotiate with trade unions on pay and working conditions.
The International and European Trade Union Confederations (ITUC and ETUC) are joining forces for Human Rights Day (December 10) to name and shame two multi-national brands and household names that refuse to negotiate with trade unions.
The ITUC & ETUC today name and shame
Samsung - has a no-union policy in its factories and workplaces, and intervenes to prevent the formation of unions at its suppliers. Samsung accumulates billions in profits at the expense of its workers. It has a well‐documented history of labour abuses in its supply chain – from union busting, poverty wages, insecure and unsafe work, to forced overtime, informal work and modern slavery. Workers are working in such distressed circumstances that in some countries the company has had to remodel its dormitories to prevent employees from committing suicide. It is time for the Giant Tech to ‘End Corporate Greed’ and guarantee a fair living wage and trade union participation and representation for its workers.
McDonald’s – the fast food giant does not bargain with a trade union over working conditions for workers in the UK – but it does in Denmark, France and Germany. In Denmark and Germany the collective agreements cover franchised stores as well as well as McDonald’s own corporate stores.
With the European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and other institutions increasingly recognising the need for wage increases to drive economic growth, and tackle inequality, the right to collective bargain is vital not only for working people, but for the economy and social justice.
“There should be no place in a modern economy for companies that do not negotiate with trade unions” said Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the ETUC. “Collective bargaining between employers and trade unions is the best way to get sensible pay rises that benefit workers, company productivity and the economy as a whole.”
“Samsung and McDonald’s like to promote themselves as modern, family-friendly brands, but their attitude to trade unions is strictly 19th century” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC. “We will not rest until workers get a fair deal in these companies.”
Unite the Resistance presents a 'Solidarity Social with Strikers' on Tuesday 12 December, 6.30 to 9.30pm at The King's Arms, 11 Bloom St, Salford M3 6AN.
Join strikers, Trade Unionists and activists for an evening of solidarity. Hear the latest from the strikes at Mears Housing, First Buses, NW Arriva Buses, the DVSA & more. Entry £5-£15 (free entry for strikers).
Across the world, the rumblings of rebellion against corrupt global corporations has begun, and it’s being lead primarily by young and angry fast-food workers. The 4th of September 2017 will be remembered as the day British McDonald’s workers joined this rebellion, as members at two stores took strike action for the first time in British history. The UK based strike was a part of a larger international day of action, which saw demonstrations and strikes across nearly every continent in the world. Over thirty McDonald’s workers took part in the strike action from stores in Crayford, South East London, and Cambridge.
The strikers were making four demands; a real living wage of £10 per hour, an end to zero–hour contracts, an end to McDonald’s culture of fear and a union in the workplace. Erik Haiczinger, a migrant worker at the Cambridge store explained why he decided to join the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers union and go on strike:
"I’ve worked full time at McDonald’s for almost a year at £7.50 per hour. I rent one room in a house, and after paying rent for that room, I have hardly enough money left to buy food or other necessities. I had needed new shoes for over ten months before I was finally able to get a pair for myself. We can’t survive like this, as prices continue to rise in the UK and our pay stay slow.
McDonald's workers in the UK face low pay, especially between the ages of 17 to 24 when they earn between £2 to £3 less than their older colleagues. There are countless stories of abuse and bullying from managers, including sexual and physical assaults. They have no entitlements to basic rights like sick or maternity pay.
McDonald's is largest employer in the world. In the UK alone, the multibillion dollar company have over 100,000 employees. They are a company who consistently force labour conditions low and pay the bare minimum to workers. Fast food workers across the world are now rejecting these conditions, and recognize that to take on such a massive company, it’s essential that workers team up internationally to fight back. On the picket lines in Britain, strikers were joined by representatives from the American fight for 15, Unite New Zealand and Livs in Sweden. Jonathan Johansson, a Swedish trade unionist from the Livs union, travelled to the UK to play a part in the historic day. Reflecting on the day, Jonathan commented “It seems absurd to me that people in the fifth largest economy in the world are living in poverty, in a position where they cannot even afford the basics like shoes, rent or in some cases food. The very minimum needed to live.”
The UK strike became known as ‘McStrike’, a name which spread quickly through British social media, at one point the hashtag trended at number two on Twitter. It was supported by the British left, including the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. McStrike was called the first Corbynite strike by British media, a title handed out after strikers openly declared their support for Corbyn and fought for the £10 per hour wage, which was a main point in the 2017 Labour manifesto.
But what really made McStrike Corbynite in nature was the hunger the strikers showed for real change, for all workers in the UK.
Union rights and workers' rights have been steadily attacked and dismantled in the UK since 1979, by both the Conservative and New Labour governments. Use of food banks has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2016. In January 2017, the Red Cross warned that the National Health Service in the UK was facing a humanitarian crisis. As inflation rises, wages in the UK have remained the same for seven years, the number of homeless continues to rise and trade unions show record low membership. It was into this world that chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” were born, and hope for workers in the UK was revived under the leadership of an MP who has spent his career fighting for the many, not the few. The hope inspired by Corbyn lit a fire in the bellies of workers who were previously told they were hopeless and impossible to organize.
Do not be mistaken; McStrike UK is not just a fight against a bad employer, it is a war being waged by workers who are angry that they never had the same rights as their parents, rights which were fought for by workers across the globe in the last century. Rights which you in Sweden may still hold on to today, but your grip on those rights is slipping, as your left-wing politics slowly moves to the centre, much like ours did in the UK under Blair. McStrike is our fight back, it is our fight to reclaim the rights and lives that were taken from us by the neoliberal agenda of our politicians. The people of the UK are angry, and we are rising. But we cannot fight alone. Our fight is your fight, as your fight is ours. Defend your rights here, but know it is not enough to just defend. We must always be ready to fight for something better, to leave a legacy in our wake which ensures that all workers who come after us have better lives, better jobs and the opportunity to flourish. Companies like McDonald’s cannot be allowed to continue their ill treatment and abuse of workers. Our governments cannot be allowed to let them continue, and it is our jobs as the workers to stand up together. We can rise, and create a better future, but only together.
Thanks to Shen Batmaz, Erik Haizcinger and Jonathan Johansson for their contributions to this piece.
In terms of money generated for the UK economy, the food and drink sector contributes nearly as much as the automotive and aerospace sectors put together and directly employs around 400,000 people! But for too long the sector, and more importantly the people that work within it, have not got the recognition they deserve. As a result, for the most part, food workers have been woefully underpaid and under-protected. Quite simply this situation is unacceptable and quite ridiculous when you think that without these workers there would be no food on our plates.
I’m therefore really happy to report back on a landmark new deal that we have helped secure for the people working at Warburtons. Warburtons, the largest bakery brand in the UK, has been around for over 140 years. But to ensure it is around for even longer, it recognised that it needed to modernise its terms and conditions - to make the business more flexible so that it was better able to meet the changing needs of its customers.
For our members, this represented a golden opportunity to demonstrate the value of food workers and to change the narrative of what it means to work in the UK food industry. It was also a brilliant example of working with a business that is prepared to not only listen to its people, but to also respond to their concerns.
After 3 years, the BFAWU, through the tireless work of our branch secretaries, has helped to secure a deal we can all be proud of – an increase in the base hourly rate, a simplification of how Warburtons’ people are paid and more stable shift patterns so that they can better plan their lives. The new terms and conditions will also give more variety to Warburtons’ workers as well as give them opportunities to learn new skills.
In fact, we thought the agreed deal was so good that we took the unprecedented decision to “very strongly recommend” it to our members before it went to the ballot. We were therefore delighted that, in November 2017, our members voted in favour of the proposals.
I’m so proud about what we’ve achieved, and would like to thank our branch secretaries for their hard work and our members for their patience throughout this process. I would also like to thank Warburtons’ management team for working with us to secure this historic deal. By putting its people at the heart of the business, Warburtons is leading the way and is showing the food and drinks industry how things should be done. We hope others follow Warburtons’ brilliant example.
Best thing since sliced bread? Perhaps not, but striking a deal that provides increased job security and improvements to people’s lives certainly comes close!
Ian Hodson (National President)
It's day three of our five-part series of blogs and statements from young BFAWU members in the food industry, in relation to Trade Unionism and what it means to them. Today, we have Callum Clapham, a twenty-year old who works for Greggs in Yorkshire. He says:
“We are often faced with the misconception that Unions are militant organisations, with an objective of corporate demise. This is may be true for some factions of the Trade Union Movement, but it's important to remember that it's a broad church, which covers millions of people in various industries and sectors. Trade unionism cannot be simply bottled up and labelled, in terms of explaining the essence of trade unionism. The Movement is dominated by issues of identity and ideology. I solve this issue myself by looking back at where the movement began.
The Industrial Revolution had decayed the artisanal economy and in its place, rose huge factories, followed closely by the expansion of trade and transport. These factories were inhabited by tens of thousands of workers, many of whom came from the country; forced from their farm-land homes, thanks to enclosure laws. These factories were ruled by unscrupulous bosses who failed to deliver safe working conditions and adequate rights for their workers. After years of exploitation, these workers grew restless and decided to organise and form Unions. These Unions would eventually fight employers to gain improved pay and working conditions.
Unions were forged out of desperation, with the purpose of bettering workers’ lives. Unions began as and are now still, the bastion of workers’ rights; the avengers of the working world. I joined a Trade Union to be a part of this. However, the Movement doesn’t just apply to the industrial revolution. I’ve been asked: “are Trade Unions still relevant?”, with the answer being "yes, they are". Though the movement hasn’t exactly succeeded insofar as fully capturing the youth, efforts are being made to rectify this. The McStrike Campaign that we’ve seen recently, has seen a small number of workers take on McDonald’s (a corporate heavyweight), and win concessions on zero-hours contracts. It highlights the power that workers have as a collective. Even if you’re a young worker or only working part-time, Unions are relevant to you. You don’t get paid to be abused at work and you don’t have to withstand it. This is the essence of why I became a Trade Union member; to help protect workers. It is often the case that workers don’t even know that they’re being mistreated in the workplace and it’s such an easy task to inform these workers of their rights, such as when they are legally entitled to a break, for example. Through being in a Union, I’ve helped employees tackle this issue, particularly with one employee who put forward a grievance with their employer, and had that grievance upheld.
So, if you’re someone who is being mistreated at work, know someone who is, or just wants to get involved in an international movement that seeks not just workplace justice, but justice in every aspect of society, then join a Union.”
In 21st Century Great Britain, exploitation and low pay is rife among young workers. Who is going to fight their corner other than Trade Unions? We must engage with young workers and not only make them aware that it doesn't have to be this way, but to ensure that Unions leave a legacy for future generations. The role of Trade Unions is just as important now, as it was in the 19th Century; not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole.
Continuing with our series of blogs and statements from young BFAWU members in the food industry in relation to Trade Unionism, we have Shannon Kerrigan, another young food worker from Scotland. This is what she has to say:
"Joining a Trade Union opens many doors, including training opportunities and the chance to see life from the perspective of others around you. Being a Trade Unionist is being someone who believes in fairness and equality, a better world and a happier working life for everyone. I've always had these values, but felt one person could not make a difference. Becoming a member of a Union simply gave me the tools to do something on both an individual and a collective level, which is where you really see results. It gave me the power to stand up for what I believe in and the confidence to go out into the community and try to help and learn from other people I never would have met otherwise. Since becoming a member, I have attended marches, demonstrations and Conferences. The words of the people who arrange and debate at these events has really stuck with me and has altered how I go about my daily life for the better."
Shannon is another example of how young workers in the food industry are starting to engage socially and politically, both inside and outside of the workplace, in order to make the case for a fairer, more equal society and how we can use our collective strength to achieve a positive change.
This week (commencing 13/11/17), the BFAWU are publishing a series of blogs and quotes from young workers in relation to being a BFAWU member and what modern day Trade Unionism means to them.
Today we have Claire Galloway, a food worker in Scotland and BFAWU member who says:
"I joined a Trade Union after being treated badly in a workplace. I wanted to learn more about workers rights. I believe knowledge is key and its through education we can empower people to stand up against discrimination and fight for better working conditions. Community work is an important part of Trade Unionism as its a chance to work with the most isolated, most vulnerable and stand together against the oppressors. This is why I continue to be involved and part of a trade union."
Young workers in the UK have become disenfranchised over the years, which has led to them slowly becoming active, both politically and in the workplace.
The BFAWU welcomes this and believes that the energy and drive of young people will fuel the Trade Union Movement of tomorrow.