Dispute intensifies at Smethwick food firm 2 Sisters
Further protests have been held at Black Country food group 2 Sisters as 55 suspended employees face disciplinary action over their involvement in wildcat strikes.
The Smethwick-based firm, which supplies chicken products to major names such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, has launched disciplinary proceedings against the staff members who took part in unofficial industrial action earlier this month.
Unions representing the workers said the protests were sparked by the company’s slow response to a racist incident involving a security guard employed by a third-party contractor.
They claimed a senior shop steward was suspended for complaining during work time to management about being racially abused by the guard.
But the company has responded angrily to Unite’s allegations, labelling them “grossly misleading and inaccurate”.
In a statement ,the firm said: “It is very sad and worrying that Unite and a small minority of employees are seeking publicity by promoting these ridiculous allegations.
“A total of 55 employees were suspended a fortnight ago due to unofficial industrial action by a small minority of the workforce.
“The suggestion that this action was related to allegations of racial abuse is very tenuous.
“The senior shop steward had been suspended earlier that week because he had failed to follow several management requests and displayed unprofessional behaviour and conduct.
“The allegations of racial abuse, which had been raised several months earlier, had been investigated thoroughly by 2 Sisters Food Group and the Security Company in line with agreed procedure.
“2 Sisters is committed to creating a work place in which all employees are treated fairly and with respect.
“The fact that our work force continues to grow and employs people from some 26 different nationalities is testament of this.”
Talks between the union and 2 Sisters have been going on for the last ten days in a bid to thrash out a deal to allow the suspended employees to return. But the company’s decision to go ahead with disciplinary proceedings has angered the union, which accused it of not observing Acas guidelines.
Joe Clarke of Unite said the company had not sought evidence from the suspended workers before starting the disciplinary process.
“They haven’t carried out any investigation and are going straight to disciplinary,” he said.
“I’m very concerned about this because they haven’t used the proper disputes process.”
The 2 Sisters spokesman said: “We have a set process and procedure for employment disputes that needs to be followed in order that we can demonstrate transparency and fairness.
“The suggestion by Unite to move the goalposts at this stage would only undermine these rules and the confidence of the wider workforce.”