'Scandalous behaviour' | Coca-Cola could be next firm to face strike action over 'abysmal' pay row

Coca-Cola could be next firm to face strike action over 'abysmal' pay row

Coca-Cola could be the next firm to be hit by strike action, as workers at one of its UK sites threatened to down tools amid a pay row and accusations of bully tactics from bosses.

Approximately 60 workers at the soft drink giant’s bottling plant in Wakefield, Yorkshire, have unanimously rejected the company’s latest pay offer, and subsequent threats and are now preparing to stage an industrial action ballot, the Unite union said.

Union chiefs accused the firm of attempting to force through a below-inflation pay deal, adding that workers were “furious about an abysmal pay deal alongside management threats and bullying”.

Workers have been offered a 21-month pay deal of 3.25% for the first 12 months, and 1.75 per cent for the next nine months. That would mean a real-terms pay cut of 6.7 per cent, based on the current RPI rate of 11.7 percent.

Unite also claimed that the company is threatening staff with further reductions to the pay offer and threatening potential changes to “ways of working”, should they successfully ballot for industrial action.

Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This scandalous behaviour is tainting one of the world’s biggest brands. This Coca-Cola bottling plant is trying to bully and threaten our members into taking a pay cut while making money hand over fist.

“Workers at the plant are rightly furious. They are joining Unite in numbers and the workers are determined to get fair treatment.

“Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) needs to think again and fast because these workers have the power to grind production of Coca-Cola to a halt unless they get a better deal.

"Our members can be assured that they have Unite’s total support in this fight.”

A Spokesperson for Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) in Great Britain, said: “We are disappointed that our pay offer hasn’t been accepted as we believe that the total package we are offering our colleagues is competitive within the marketplace.

"We will maintain an ongoing dialogue with our employees’ representatives and are ready to continue pay talks to reach a solution.

"The current negotiations are with a small number of colleagues who are responsible for clerical and administrative tasks at one of CCEP’s sites in Great Britain.

"Therefore, whilst we hope that a resolution can be found, we are preparing contingency measures and are confident that there will be no disruption to our trade customers.”

Strike action grips the nation

Should the staff at Coca-Cola go ahead with their strike, they would join a growing list of workers across the UK staging walk-outs in recent weeks.

Earlier this month (June 2022), thousands of railway workers launched the biggest rail strikes the country has seen in decades, bringing many parts of the country to a standstill. The RMT union, which represents rail workers, says the first general strike since 1989 is being held in response to below-inflation pay rise offers and the threat of compulsory redundancies – which the union warns would create safety risks on Britain’s railways.

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Elsewhere, pay and working conditions have seen barristers across England & Wales stage pickets outside courthouses across the country.

Barristers voted for action earlier this month with more than 80% of its 2,055 members backing walkouts, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said.

The lawyers say real earnings have collapsed, dropping 28% since 2006, with junior barristers earning a median income of only £12,200 in their first three years, forcing many to give up their career.

What does the law say about industrial action?

On its website, workers union Unison explains that, in addition to strikes, industrial action can include ‘go-slows’ or ‘working to rule’.

Although there is no positive legal right to strike in the UK, strike action organised by a trade union is legal provided some tough conditions are met.

For example:

  • The union must have conducted a lawful ballot of all the members it believes will be called upon to take part.

  • The action must be over a trade dispute between workers and their employer over an issue like terms or conditions of employment and as defined in s.244 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

  • The general secretary or someone else authorised by the union’s rules, must authorise any industrial action.

  • The person named on the ballot paper must make a call for action before industrial action can take place.

  • There are very strict rules about the ballot and the notice that must be given to the employer about the action.

Unison also said it is “automatically unfair” to dismiss someone who’s taken part in any lawful industrial action within 12 weeks of the action. Employers can deduct pay for striking workers, but this can be no more than one fifth of weekly pay for a day’s strike action.

Could industrial action hit your firm?

The current strikes across a number of industries are unlikely to be the last in the coming weeks and months, It appears that the recent media coverage of walk-outs, coupled with the growing cost-of-living crisis, had led to more employees calling for more financial support from their employers.

In fact, analysis of Google search data reveals that UK searches for ‘join union’ exploded 184% in the days after the RMT announced its strike action. The research, which was conducted by Workello, also found that searches for ‘how to strike’ rose by 135% in the same period.

A Spokesperson from Workello commented: “The British public have been faced with trains up and down the country coming to a standstill as a result of these strikes by RMT, leading to difficulties getting to work, attending events and appointments.

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“However, the strikes have also encouraged a surge of online interest in joining a trade union, indicating the massive impact that strikers are having across the country. With more strikes across other sectors rumoured to take place in the future, it will be interesting to see whether these searches continue to rise, especially if strikers achieve their desired outcome.”

As working conditions and the economy become more volatile, the prospect of being supported by a union could well become more attractive to workers. Unionised or not, all bosses currently face the prospect of workers being able to vote with their feet. Not only are many employees seeking more financial compensation from employers to compensate for the cost-of-living crisis, but they also want more flexible ways of working – and they’re able to move on to another, more lucrative, employment if they don’t receive this, because of the tight labour market in which employers are competing for talent.

HR leaders would therefore do well to listen carefully to their workforce’s concerns.

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