‘Fire & rehire row’ | Weetabix People Director hits back as strike action ESCALATES

Weetabix People Director hits back as strike action ESCALATES

Weetabix’ Group People and IT Director has publicly responded to the expansion of strikes at two Weetabix sites saying that the union-backed activity is “irrelevant to current industrial action at Weetabix” – the Guardian reports

Stuart Branch’s comments – he has spent over nine years at the firm – form part of a wider denial from Weetabix that they are involved in “fire and rehire” tactics – terminating worker contracts and hiring them back on worse terms to save money – or are guilty of “corporate greed”. 

What action is being taken? 

Weetabix has been involved in industrial disputes for over two months, with members of Unite union on strike for two days a week since September. 

Striking workers say this action is over proposed changes which will leave them up to £5,000 a year worse off. 

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Now the dispute is being escalated with those workers striking for four days a week from today. 

Speaking about the strike, Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Weetabix is making bumper profits, so there is no justification for these ‘fire and rehire’ attacks on our members’ wages and conditions. They are just not swallowing what in reality is a serving of corporate greed. 

“Unite will not accept attacks on our members’ jobs, pay and conditions, and Weetabix should expect this dispute to continue escalating until fire and rehire is dropped.” 

HR hits back 

However, Weetabix – who make Wheetos, Alpen and Oatibix – denied the claims, saying this dispute has nothing to do with wider arguments about the use of fire and rehire. 

As Weetabix’ Branch said: “For 90 years we’ve maintained a strong and productive relationship with our workforce across Northamptonshire to create a world-leading cereal manufacturing capability. We’re concerned to see that our reputation is being damaged in service of Unite’s national campaign on ‘fire and rehire’, which is irrelevant to the current industrial action at Weetabix. 

“We have repeatedly reassured our engineering team and their union representatives that no individual is at risk of dismissal, and that roles exist for all, thanks to our ongoing investment in our UK factories. The current discussions with our team focus on a request for compensation for a change in shift patterns. 

“As these changes are permitted under their existing contracts, we will not be paying for them as it would be unfair to our other employees. We are extremely proud of the efforts of our 1,000-strong British workforce, and have paid two additional bonuses over the last year to reflect their hard work throughout the pandemic.” 

What HR needs to know? 

For HR practitioners, who might have long moved to an employee relations model from a more traditional industrial relations model, the Weetabix strike story might spark concerns about strike, or activist, action at their own firm. 

In fact, worries about striking employees formed part of the early COP26 story as Stagecoach union members got close to ‘downing tools’ until a last minute pay deal was agreed. 

It could form part of a wider pattern as union membership grows. According to TUC figures, UK union membership has grown by 200,000 over the last three years. 

This growth tacks alongside a recent, although more anecdotal, change in the employer-employee dynamic, with many recent examples of employees feeling emboldened to take action against decisions their employers take that they don’t like. 

Often it’s not just about pay. For example, Netflix employees walked out last month in response to the company’s handling of a Dave Chappelle special that sparked subsequent internal backlash. 

This isn’t a standalone instance. Over the last few years, there have been a growing number of examples of employee-led activist movements within many big-name brands, including Google, Uber and Facebook. 

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