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Unite union warns dispute over pay for employees at British Sugar factories in Bury St Edmunds, Wissington, Cantley and Newark could turn sour



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Sugar factory workers, including employees based in Suffolk, are to be balloted for strike action in a dispute over pay.

Officials from the Unite union say the move against British Sugar comes after its members rejected the offer of a two per cent rise.

The company says it remains in 'active negotiations' and is confident of reaching a deal.

British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton
British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mecha Morton

But staff at its factories at Bury St Edmunds, Wissington, Cantley and Newark will now be invited to vote in a ballot for industrial action, which opens next week.

And Unite officials have warned the dispute could turn sour for the wider sugar industry very quickly.

Regional officer Mark Plumb said: “Our members' feelings are running high and coordinated strikes at every one of British Sugar’s processing factories during the UK’s sugar beet harvest could cause real problems for the company’s operations and across its supply chain."

British Sugar
British Sugar

The union says 86 per cent of its 500 members in British Sugar factories in Suffolk, Norfolk and Nottinghamshire, rejected a two per cent offer in a consultative ballot.

A ballot of technicians, engineers and supply chain operatives at British Sugar’s Bury St Edmunds, Wissington, Cantley and Newark factories is now due to open on Monday, July 5, and run until July 26.

The union claims British Sugar has failed to honour commitments made to staff when they accepted a one per cent pay increase two years ago, at a time when the company faced financial problems.

It also alleges that directors' pay rose by 46 per cent in the company's latest financial returns, while pre-tax profits are expected to be similar to the £55 million recorded in the year to August 2020.

British Sugar's Wissington sugar beet factory near Stoke Ferry in Norfolk
British Sugar's Wissington sugar beet factory near Stoke Ferry in Norfolk

Mr Plumb, said: “The backdrop of broken pay promises, extravagant executive remuneration and British Sugar’s take it or leave attitude to negotiations means that this dispute could turn sour very quickly.

“British Sugar is operating at a profit and can clearly afford massive pay rises for top staff.

“This dispute can be resolved quickly and amicably if British Sugar improves on its not so sweet pay offer.”

A British Sugar spokesperson said: “We are in active negotiations with Unite to reach agreement on our pay offer for our factory based people.

“We are, therefore, disappointed that the union is talking about strike action and the communication today contains a number of inaccuracies.

“We are confident we will reach an agreement that works for all in the coming weeks.”

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