More than 75 Hovis workers and their supporters joined a picket line in Wigan yesterday. It marked the start of the workers’ second week-long strike against zero hours contracts. One striker said, “When we win it'll be a catalyst for other workers.”
The Bfawu union members’ first strike won permanent full time contracts for Hovis workers hired early this year on zero hours contracts.
Now 220 workers at Premier Foods, the company that runs Hovis, are striking to stop the company using agency workers to undermine their wages and conditions. A striker said, “If this agency business doesn't end we'll all be agency and that's no life at all.” Geoff Atkinson, Bfawu regional organiser, said, "Using agency workers is only third-party supplied zero hours contacts."
Other trade unionists came to show solidarity. They included delegations from Bolton and Salford Unison, Unite, GMB Trade Union, RMT, Manchester and Lancashire Trades Councils, North West NUT and Lancashire NUT.
Workers chanted “Zero hours, zero crumpets” and “The workers united will never be defeated”. Supporters blocked the road outside the main gate, holding up Hovis lorries and other traffic. Strikers did not want to give their names as they don't trust bosses not to victimise them later.
Workers said bosses watch them at work with cameras. “It’s the little things that wear everybody down,” one said. “There are no fans. It’s red hot and they make us wear long jackets.” Another striker agreed, “They sit in air conditioned offices while we're dripping with sweat.”
Workers were angry this morning, saying bosses are filming pickets and approaching people individually to ask them to return to work. They say anyone prepared to scab was promised up to £2,000 a week for six weeks.
Managers have kept the plant running by bringing in scabs and managers from Newcastle and Belfast. But the strikes are hitting Premier Foods hard. During the last strike they only made 10,000 loaves. "We made more than that in one shift when we went back!" a striker laughed. Now Hovis workers in Bradford, Leicester and Belfast are preparing to ballot for strikes and an overtime ban against being used to handle Wigan Hovis' orders.