Members of Unite employed by Chester-le-Street based construction supplies companies Birtley Group Ltd and Bowater Doors Ltd have announced they will take industrial action in a dispute about very low pay rates.

Workers to take strike action

The 124 members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, are spread across the two companies which share the same premises and are both part of the same parent company Hill & Smith Holdings PLC.

The workers will take an initial 13 days of strike action beginning on Wednesday 10 August and ending on Monday 22 August. This will be followed by a further 16 days of strike action beginning on Sunday 4 September and ending on Monday 19 September. A continuous overtime ban will also be in place from Wednesday 10 August.

Record profits

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said; “The parent company is making record profits on the backs of our members’ hard work. It can fully afford to make a fair pay award but has chosen not to.

“Unite is dedicated to prioritising the jobs, pay and conditions of its members. Our members at Birtley Group and Bowater Doors, many of whom are barely earning above the minimum wage, will receive Unite’s total support until this dispute is resolved and they receive an offer which meets their expectations.”

Derisory pay awards

The dispute is a result of Birtley and Bowter making derisory pay awards in January, with workers on different grades receiving different increases, all of which were far below the rate of inflation. Some of the workers receive just the national minimum wage while others are barely paid above t this rate. 

The workers recorded a 97 per cent yes vote for strike action on a 77 per cent turnout.

Very wealthy

The company is very successful, Hill & Smith Holdings PLC Group made an operating profit of £86 million in 2021 which was a 23 per cent increase on the previous year.

The Birtley workforce produce lintels for the construction industry, while Bowater produce UPVC doors for residential and business customers.

Strike action will quickly create shortages and delays for both companies’ clients which include many of the UK’s major housebuilders including: Redrow, Bovis, Persimmon, Crest Nicholson and Countryside Properties

Management failure 

Unite regional officer Pat McCourt said: “Strike action will cause severe disruption to the companies’ clients, but this dispute is entirely of their own making, due to the failure to make a fair offer to the loyal workforce.

 “Management at Birtley and Bowater need to rapidly return to the negotiating table with a decent offer or be faced with highly disruptive industrial action. “ 


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.