Striking Hovis workers have warned of “huge” bread shortages across Northern Ireland as their walkout over pay continues.
The workforce at Hovis’s Belfast plant, who are on the second day of an all-out stoppage, have vowed to remain at the picket lines until their dispute over wages is resolved.
Workers are picketing outside the site as production inside a facility that bakes around half the bread consumed in Northern Ireland remains at a standstill.
They are demanding pay parity with counterparts in Britain, whom they say are paid 10.5% more than them. Unions representing the workers have rejected a 3% increase offered by Hovis.
There are more than 200 employees who work at the Hovis site in south Belfast.
The strike action, which began early Friday morning, is being jointly led by the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and Unite.
At the picket on Saturday, Laura Graham from BFAWU told the PA news agency: “The strike is as a result of the pay offer from the company, which was not to the expectation of the employees to put it lightly.
“They’ve been offered what they see as a paltry pay offer after the year that they put in working through a pandemic.
“There isn’t pay parity across the sites, our site would be the lowest paid across Hovis, even though it would be one of the top performing sites and the most productive site as well.
“So, we are saying that our employees here should be getting the same pay, equal pay, as their colleagues across the water.”
Ms Graham predicted there would be no Hovis products at all on shop shelves in Northern Ireland in the coming days.
“We know there hasn’t been any production since Thursday,” she said.
“That will be felt not just in Northern Ireland but I believe across the water as well.”
She said the unions were committed to the strike for the “long haul”.
“This will be until a resolution as potentially reached,” she said.
“Everybody will be out, the resolve is completely strong. Yes, we’re on day two, but I believe that this will continue as long as necessary and the members of our union and Unite are out for the long haul until we get something sorted.”
Sean McKeever, regional officer for Unite, said the workers were not being treated with the respect they deserved.
“These people have been coming to work during the height of this pandemic,” he told PA.
“When people could hardly go across their door, these people were feeding the nation and the company needs to deal with them more respectfully than what they’re offering them from a pay parity point of view.
“We’re asking the company to get involved in meaningful negotiations as soon as possible to try to resolve this dispute. These people are as important as our great nurses and doctors as far as the pandemic goes and it needs to be realised that workers like this have to be dealt with in a respectful manner.”
He added: “There’s going to be huge bread shortages right across Northern Ireland and further afield.
“There’s going be a huge effect in the next couple of days, and it will be seen on the shelves when people go to buy bread.”
A spokesman for Hovis said the unions’ pay demands were “unsustainable”.
“Unions representing some of the staff at the Hovis (Ireland) Belfast site are continuing to strike,” he said.
“Hovis is disappointed that this action is ongoing as we had made an above inflation pay offer of 3% each year for two years which we believe was fair and reasonable given current market conditions. The claim made by both unions is for a 10.5% pay increase, with additional elements taking it to approximately 15%, which is clearly unsustainable.
“We benchmark all salaries and provide benefit packages that are market comparable for the areas in which we operate, both locally and in GB, taking into account site requirements. If we didn’t offer competitive pay, benefits and good working conditions then we would not be able to attract the calibre of people that we have working in our business.
“We will continue to seek a resolution that is acceptable to all sides and we are committed to reaching a conclusion to this action as soon as possible.”