Northern Ireland Hovis staff could strike in 'poverty pay' dispute
More than 100 union members at Hovis in Belfast could strike in January if the bread manufacturer doesn't address the issue of "poverty pay" among its staff.
The Unite union is balloting staff at the bakery for strike action in the fair pay dispute.
It said the company must address "the issue of poverty pay" among its staff or face widespread disruption to its production lines.
Hovis employs around 250 people in a bakery on Apollo Road. It makes bread under the Ormo and Mother's Pride brands as well as own-label bread for M&S, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Lidl.
Unite regional officer Sean McKeever said: "Unite's members at Hovis Bakery in Belfast have put forward a pay claim for a 5.1% pay increase. This will translate into a long overdue increase to their wages which remains at scandalously low levels.
"Once you strip out payments for overtime and shift bonuses, the basic rate of pay is actually 90 pence below the legal minimum of £8.21 an hour.
"The fact workers' pay is consolidated means the employer is able to get away with this, but it means that workers have to work excessively and intensively to break the minimum wage threshold.
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"That this is the situation in one of our biggest bread manufacturers is a disgrace."
He said that last year Hovis made £15m in profits before tax.
"They can well afford to pay their workers a fair wage. Their failure to make any move has left Unite with no option but to open a ballot of Hovis workers on strike action," Mr McKeever added.
In a statement, Hovis said: "We continue to operate in a very tough and competitive market, so as a company that continues to make a loss we are disappointed that Unite is balloting staff for strike action.
"Negotiations with Unite regarding an enhanced pay and conditions package for our team at the Belfast bakery have been progressing and the latest offer made by Hovis has yet to be put to a staff vote.
"We remain committed to seeking a resolution acceptable to all sides."