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Pay row threatens production at Scottish teacake maker Tunnock's

By Jane Byrne , 22-Sep-2010
Last updated on 22-Sep-2010 at 13:11 GMT

Production of more than a million teacakes could be in jeopardy if a strike at leading Scottish biscuit and confectionery maker, Tunnock’s, goes ahead.

Members of the UK union Unite, working at the factory in Glasgow, are holding a mass meeting today to decide what action is necessary but have not ruled out a 24 hour walkout from midnight tomorrow and the following Tuesday in a dispute centred on pay.

Outputs at the facility are around 350 tea cakes a minute, and the plant operates on a 24-hour five-day-a-week schedule but the threatened industrial action, involving 500 workers, would shut down production for six days as it coincides with Scottish holiday closures.

Pay offer

The trade union claims that management at the family run plant has been disingenuous in its claim that Unite workers have rejected a 2% pay hike that it put forward, with the employee representatives stressing that no formal offer has been put to the staff.

“We have continually said that if a sensible offer with no conditions is made, then we shall put that to our members for them to decide,” said Unite regional officer, Tony Devlin, who accused Tunnock’s management of using dirty tricks to mislead its members.

Our members are determined to get a fair and improved pay offer,” he added.

Tunnock’s workers threatened to stage a 24-hour walkout previously, in November 2006, after rejecting two pay offers, but the action was called off after the management agreed to discussions with an arbitration service.

Neither a representative of Unite or Tunnock’s was available for comment in relation to the pending strike.

Production costs

The biscuit maker, which exports its products to more than 30 countries, issued its first ever profit warning in 2007, citing spiralling costs of manufacturing in Scotland as the primary reason for the revenue hit.

And while Tunnock’s saw its turnover increase from £31.8m to £35.6m between 2008 and 2009, its pre-tax profits fell from £1.35m to £1.05m.

Workforce development

Alongside rising prices and fuel costs challenges, workforce development issues including skills gaps are some of the key pressure points for the food and drink processing sector throughout Scotland.

122,000 people are employed in the industry throughout Scotland, with the sector, according to Scottish Enterprise, generating £7.57bn in sales annually.

According to statistics from Improve, the UK food and drink sector skills council, the food manufacturing sector is the most likely to report skills shortages in comparison to all other industries in Scotland.

And Scottish Labour MSP, David Whitton, recently pointed to serious challenges in the years ahead for the industry if this issue is not tackled now.

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