Quorn faces strike action as union warns of supermarket shortages

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Could industrial unrest lead to Quorn shortages? / Pic: Quorn Foods
Could industrial unrest lead to Quorn shortages? / Pic: Quorn Foods

Related tags Quorn Unite the union Strike action

Plant-based food manufacturer Quorn Foods is facing strike action at its Billingham factory over a pay dispute. As union officials warn this could lead to supermarket shortages, the company says continued supply is of the ‘utmost importance’.

A dispute has erupted between Quorn and more than 60 production workers over what union officials described as a ‘paltry’ pay offer.

Unite, the union representing workers at Quorn’s production facility in Billingham, has said that a series of ‘discontinuous strikes’ are planned between 5-13 February, with continuous strike action planned from 14 February if the dispute is not resolved. Socially distanced picket lines will be held outside the factory’s entrance and an overtime ban will commence on 1 February.

Unite believes that the pay offer Quorn management has brought to the table – a 2% increase – does not reflect efforts of workers to keep production flowing during the pandemic or the company’s current financial performance.

Disputed performance and the threat of shortages

According to the latest financial report for Marlow Foods Ltd, which trades as Quorn Foods, turnover rose to £229.6m in the year ending 31 December 2019, up 4.6% from £219.6m in 2018.

However, pre-tax profit was £19.3m down from £27.2m the previous year. The dip was attributed to costs associated with capacity constraints and investment to increase production volumes.

The union stressed that Quorn has seen an increase in retail demand for plant-based products during 2020.

“Quorn Foods’ paltry 2% pay offer does not reflect the hard work and dedication shown by its Billingham site workers during the pandemic. Despite Quorn’s continued success throughout the lockdowns, in large part thanks to staff, the company is refusing to acknowledge the workforce’s contributions,​” Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown said.

“The company’s continued tightfistedness has turned what should have been a sensible negotiation into a full on pay beef with staff.
“The company’s workforce is well aware that Quorn can afford to table a pay offer that reflects their hard work during the crisis and will not back down until that happens.”

Quorn management dismissed this assessment of the company’s performance and its offer to workers which, the company stressed, included a bonus in ‘specific recognition’ of the contribution made during the pandemic.

“We take great pride in treating our people fairly and equitably right across our organisation, and so it is with huge disappointment and deep concern that we have received notice of intended industrial action from colleagues at our manufacturing site in Billingham,”​ a spokesperson told FoodNavigator.

“The matter relates to the annual salary increase of +2% awarded to all our staff, an above-inflation increase, along with bonuses worth, on average, an additional 3.1%. These bonuses have been awarded in specific recognition of our staff’s incredible commitment and their dedicated contribution and effort through an unprecedented and extremely challenging year.”

Quorn said that the UK’s economic position has ‘worsened significantly' and stressed that the group has ‘seen the effects of this directly within our business’. “The shutdown of restaurants and workplace food outlets have reduced sales throughout 2020, but we have continued to maintain a pay offer which has been consistently above inflation,”​ the company said.

“We also plan to continue a strong programme of investment in the business, particularly at our Billingham site, where we have recently also employed 10 new members of staff and which we see as a core part of driving the future growth of Quorn Foods.”

Unite’s Hussain-Brown warned that Quorn consumers and supermarket customers ‘will not be happy if there are shortages of the company’s meat-free alternatives on shelves’.

Responding to whether there was indeed a concern over possible shortages, Quorn said: “Ensuring that we continue to supply our customers is of the utmost importance, and we are working closely with our colleagues in order to resolve this matter as soon as possible.”

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