WORKERS have warned that future strikes are on the table at a Newtownards factory as they began a week-long picket following a pay dispute.

Production staff at LE Pritchitt & Company Limited, who are members of Unite, stood at the picket line yesterday morning on the first day of their seven day long strike.

The planned strike action at the factory which processes long-life milk products, is a result of a pay dispute, with employees pushing the company for a nine percent pay rise.

Despite numerous talks with the company, which is an arm of the Lakeland Dairies Company, and a rejection of an 8.2% pay increase offer, Unite members voted to bring the company to a standstill, with a weeklong strike, due to end on February 28 at 5.59am.

Gary Hamilton, who is a senior representative for Unite and has worked at the factory for 31 years, said workers had hoped the company would meet the pay demand.

He said with minimum wage levels set to increase to £11.44 from April, the lowest entry production workers at the factory will soon earn less than this, with a wage band of £11.42 an hour. 

Unite have called on management to provide an increase which maintains a £1 an hour pay differential with the minimum wage for the fully trained production operators.

“We never thought we would be surpassed by the minimum wage with the amount of training required to operate the plants, the cleaning procedures, the sterilisation processes and chemical handling,” said Mr Hamilton.

“I feel a bit undervalued now. Maybe it is just a mental thing because of the minimum wage catching up on the pay grades but it does make you feel undervalued for the efforts you have put in over a long period of time.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon called on Lakeland Dairies and Unite to agree to a pay settlement for the Newtownards based employees.

He said: “Having been contacted by many workers, a new and fair pay settlement is desired across the entire workforce.

“I understand that this is the first strike in the company’s history, and the branch in the town of Newtownards has been here for so many decades.

“In recent years, Lakeland Dairies have made increases in their profits which I understand is reinvested into world class facilities and research and development , and I know that this success is also partially down to the commitment and complete loyalty of the workforce, who go above and beyond to meet workplace goals.

“These popular dairy products are used all over the nation and further afield so it is crucial the efforts of the employees are reflected through a just and much needed increase in pay.”

He continued: “I understand that there is only a small difference between what the workers want and what management is currently willing to give, so I urge managers to look at this again, to come to an arrangement and settle the dispute to get these workers back into their job for a reasonable rate of pay as soon as possible, which is something that I know every single worker is eager to do.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said Lakeland Dairies is a hugely successful business which has recorded record profits.

“That success is built on the commitment and skills of their production workers. It is completely unacceptable that the forthcoming minimum wage increase will surpass all existing pay grades.

“The workforce has the full support of Unite in their fight for a cost of living pay increase that reflects their skills and responsibilities.”


Company says it wants amicable and fair outcome

LAKELAND Dairies maintain that its consolidated rate of hourly pay is ‘significantly’ higher than the National Living Wage.

Speaking as a week-long strike began at the Newtownards based factory of LE Pritchett & Company Limited, the company stated it regretted the decision taken by Unite to proceed with the action ‘despite a significantly improved offer’ prior to the strike notice.

The company added that it had formally requested Unite to allow their members at their factory the chance to ballot on the latest offer, stating that ‘thus far they have not done so’.

Unite had stated that the week-long strike would affect production at the company and bring it to a standstill, however Lakeland Dairies maintain that they have a ‘robust’ business continuity and processing plans in place to deal with any potential disruption, ensuring  it is ‘business –as-usual’.

 A spokesman said: “Lakeland Dairies has at all times been willing, and remains so, to engage with unionised employees and their unions to find an amicable and fair outcome.

“Lakeland Dairies has been in discussions with the union for over six months around what we believe to be a reasonable set of proposals in relation to pay increases. We firmly believe that the offer put forward by the co-operative would provide an appropriate uplift that is also reflective of overall competitive market and economic conditions.”

The spokesman continued: “We remain available to continue discussions. We believe it is in everyone’s interests that this matter is resolved as amicably as possible. We do not believe that the pending strike action is necessary or helpful in finding a resolution.”

“As a co-operative that is deeply rooted in the community, we pride ourselves on a proactive and respectful approach to engaging with staff and their unions.

“Lakeland Dairies has a strong reputation as a quality employer and a proven track record of treating staff with fairness and equity across all our sites. 

“The terms, including rates of pay, at our Newtownards site are highly competitive as is reflected by an average length of service of 12 years among our employees on the site. A large cohort (approximately a quarter) of staff have more than 20 years of unbroken service.

“The consolidated rate of hourly pay on the site is significantly above National Living Wage levels.”

The concluded: “Despite the uncertainty caused by this industrial action, Lakeland Dairies remains committed to achieving an agreement that serves the best interests of all our employees and the long-term viability of the Lakeland Dairies Newtownards site.”