The row over Grimsby-based Icelandic Seachill, accused of paying for the new ‘national living wage’ by slashing overtime rates, has been taken to the European Commission, as the workforce faces the prospect of dismissal from today (Thursday 28 April).
Yesterday (Wednesday 27 April) Unite regional officer Dave Monaghan and shop steward Mark Hodson handed in a letter to the firm’s Icelandic owners at the Brussels Seafood Expo Global, protesting at the UK bosses changing workers’ contracts without agreement.
Unite has highlighted the hardline stance of the UK management who, the union says, are pressuring the workers to sign new contracts which will see their pay packets significantly reduced.
Unite said last month that Icelandic Seachill, which relies on large amounts of overtime from its 400 workforce at the chilled site, was engaged in ‘an outrageous sleight of hand’ to recoup the money it is paying out for the 46 pence per hour increase required by the ‘national living wage’.
It plans to do so by axing overtime and rates paid for weekend working to claw back the extra cost – the new contracts will enshrine these detrimental conditions.
The Brussels letter was from European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) and European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).
The two European federation unions said: “We understand that workers at Icelandic Seachill (chilled site) in Grimsby face the threat of dismissal unless they agree to the detrimental changes to their overtime rates.
“We call on your company to resolve this dispute on the basis of respect for international human rights standards, including the fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.
“We support the workers, represented by trade union Unite, and demand that the UK management at the site meaningfully engage with the union and commit to a recognition agreement that provides for full collective bargainning rights.”
The ETF and EFFAT said that they have presented these concerns to the European Commission.
Unite regional officer Dave Monaghan said: “Our members at Grimsby very much welcome the support of the ETF and EFFAT in this on-going dispute, which is basically an outrageous sleight of hand of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“It now appears that the company that puts a high value on its good ‘reputation’ will start dismissing the workers if they don’t sign the new – and adverse – contract that will guarantee a big hole in their pay packet.
“Without the enormous amount of overtime that our members put in this profitable company would not be able to generate tens of millions in sales a year.
“We hope that handing in the letter to the group’s owners, based in Iceland, will contribute to a change of attitude by the UK management.
“The ‘national living wage’ is meant to uplift incomes of those on low pay and not as a way for unscrupulous bosses to boost profits by playing fast-and-loose with the spirit behind the new ‘living wage’ rate.”
Unite is concerned that what is happening in Grimsby is becoming widespread across the UK as companies became legally obliged to pay the ‘national living wage’ of £7.20 per hour from 1 April.
The bosses at the Laforey Road plant are now paying the 400 process operators £7.20 per hour (since the dispute started and not the promised £7.35). The normal week is 40 hours, but the workers are required to work every other weekend on overtime. Therefore, a week can easily average between 50 and 60 hours i.e. 10-20 hours of overtime.
However, the company is planning to slash overtime rates. For example, the current time and a half of £7.20 per hour (£10.80) will be reduced to time and a quarter at £7.35 (£9.18) Monday – Saturday, meaning that the company is saving £1.62 per hour at the workers’ expense. Such a formula of time and a half on Sunday will see the company save £3.37 per hour.
The ‘national living wage’, which is obligatory, should not to be confused with the higher rates recommended by the Living Wage Foundation of £8.25 per hour (£9.40 in London) – however, the ‘living wage’ is voluntary and up to employers whether they pay it.
According to its website, Icelandic Seachill is a leading supplier of chilled fish and supplier of prawn cocktails, party foods and fishcakes to the UK retail market. It also owns The Saucy Fish Co. brand.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.