A wage dispute between domestic sugar producer British Sugar and its workers at factories across east England ‘could turn sour’ after a ‘not so sweet’ pay offer resulted in a strike ballot, Unite said today (Wednesday 30 June). 

Unite, the UK’s leading union, said its 500 members in British Sugar factories in Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire, had rejected a two per cent offer by the company by 86 per cent in a consultative ballot.

The result of the consultative ballot from the technicians, engineers and supply chain operatives at British Sugar’s Newark, Wissington, Cantley and Bury St Edmunds factories has led Unite to launch a ballot for strike action which opens on 5 July and closes on 26 July.

The union said its members are angry that the company pledged to implement a reasonable pay rise when it returned to profitability following their acceptance of a paltry one per cent increase in 2019, when British Sugar was struggling financially.

British Sugar’s financial records show it made pre-tax profits of £55 million in the year up to August 2020, with a similar profit estimated for this year. 

Stoking tensions further is the fact that the total cost of the two per cent offer for all 500 members equates to around £500,000, compared to the salary of British Sugar’s highest paid director increasing by nearly the same amount in 2020.  

British Sugar’s latest financial returns shows that director’s pay increased by 46 per cent from £819,405 to £1,198,031, a total of £378,626, while the total pay for all the company’s directors increased from £2 million to £2.6 million. 

Unite regional officer Mark 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. 

“Our members feelings are running high and coordinated strikes at every one of British Sugar’s processing factories during the UK’s sugar beat harvest could cause real problems for the company’s operations and across its supply chain. 

“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.” 


During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.