Burton’s Biscuit Co. is facing industrial action at its plant in Edinburgh over a pay offer.

Trade union GMB said Burton’s, owner of brands including Wagon Wheels and Jammie Dodgers, had offered workers a “derisory” 1.6% annual salary increase. Burton’s has rejected its demands for a better offer, which the Viscount biscuits maker claims is in the region of 7%. 

As a result, 200 GMB-affiliated employees will start a series of three 24-hour strikes at the plant from tomorrow (9 September), lasting from 6am through to 5:59 am on Thursday morning. A similar pattern will follow on the next two Wednesdays.

As well as the Viscount brand, the facility also manufactures Burton’s Fish ‘n’ Chips snack line, along with shortbread for private-label clients. The site employs a total of 403 workers, the company said.

A spokesperson for Burton’s described the proposed industrial action as “regrettable and unnecessarily damaging”, and added: “We are shocked that the GMB is seeking a 7% pay increase for the Edinburgh bakery’s GMB weekly-paid employees and has advised our colleagues to take a course of action which we do not believe is in their best interest. 

“We have made an offer above inflation and have also discussed enhanced offers for additional flexibility in contracts. We are extremely disappointed that the GMB has chosen not to share these offers openly with their members, our employees.”

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However, GMB said “an indefinite ‘work to rule’, including an overtime ban, started this afternoon at 14:00 hours”.

Burton’s added: “We do not envisage any supply issues as a direct result of the industrial action as we have a plentiful supply of products awaiting distribution, although we are of course monitoring the situation closely.

“We are focused on the importance of protecting jobs, especially in the context of the global crisis and will continue to do everything we can to ensure ongoing job security for our 403 employees on site. We cannot stress enough how action of this kind may impact negatively on the future of the site and our ability to afford a pay review for our employees.”

Meanwhile, Benny Rankin, the Scotland organiser for GMB, said the “dispute strikes at the heart of the debate around fair work and decent pay in the Scottish economy. The fact management claim to be shocked at our union’s claim for a rise that would put just 65 pence an hour more on the wages of the lowest paid shows you how out of touch they are”. 
Burton’s said it had incurred costs of GBP1.2m (US$1.5m) linked to coronavirus at the Edinburgh plant, and has made what it believes is a “reasonable” offer given the risk of a recession.

“Our desire is to find a mutually acceptable solution for our colleagues and the business, and we are willing to resume discussions with employees’ representatives at the earliest opportunity,” The Burton’s spokesperson explained. “We also hope that we can return to full production as soon as possible and move forward in a spirit of unity and co-operation in a safe, enjoyable and productive working environment.”