Pilgrim’s Food Masters, part of US meat major Pilgrim’s Pride, has been accused of using so-called fire and rehire tactics at a UK chilled meals facility.

Trades union GMB, which represents workers at the site in Southall, London, said 1,000 employees had been “threatened with the sack if they don’t accept losing paid breaks, reduced sick pay and the removal of Diwali holiday pay”.

Pilgrim’s Food Masters said these are “minimum changes that are required to support the future viability of the business”.

The row comes just four months after Pilgrim’s Food Masters announced plans to close another Southall site, with the potential loss of more than 200 jobs. It cited “difficult headwinds” and the “inflationary environment” for that decision.

In a statement sent to Just Food today (23 March) about the situation at the chilled meals facility, GMB claims the company – which supplies major UK supermarkets – had made “outrageous” demands on its workers, 100 of whom are heading to Parliament today for a meeting with shadow employment minister Justin Madders and other MPs.

Perry Philips, GMB regional organiser, said: “Fire and rehire is a cruel, outdated practice that has no place in the modern world. This is a low-paid, predominantly female workforce – many of whose families have worked at Pilgrim’s for generations and this is the thanks they get? It’s outrageous.

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“Workers are already terrified about how they will pay their bills, many are already relying on foodbanks. This will make things so much worse.

“GMB calls on Pilgrim to do the right thing by its loyal workforce: stop this savage scheme before it’s too late.”

The union said it has more than 1,000 members at Pilgrim’s, predominantly low-paid women of Punjabi, Sri Lankan and Somali heritage.

It has been backed in its criticism of the company by local MP Virendra Sharma, who said: “It is absolutely shocking that Pilgrim’s Food Masters is set to fire and rehire the dedicated and hardworking employees in my constituency only to rehire them on worse terms and conditions.

“I’ve fought this outdated practice since the 1970s and it’s disgraceful to see it rear its ugly head once again at a time when workers across the country face a deteriorating cost of living crisis.”

Responding to the criticism, Pilgrim’s Food Masters said: “Against the backdrop of a difficult economic environment and declining volumes in our chilled meals business, we need to make changes that help sustain our business and safeguard the jobs of our people.

“Throughout this process, our aim has always been to secure the best possible outcome for our people, proposing only the minimum changes that are required to support the future viability of the business and bring our T&Cs in line with industry standards.

“We are still in the middle of the consultation; we continue to seek positive solutions with the GMB union and are committed to retaining our current valued workforce.”

Pilgrim’s Pride is majority-owned by Brazil-based meat giant JBS. It employs around 60,000 people worldwide. Pilgrim’s UK employs around 5,500 people.

Pilgrim’s Food Masters was previously part of Ireland-based Kerry Group. Pilgrim’s Pride acquired Kerry Group’s meats and meals business in 2021 in a deal that valued the assets at an “enterprise value” of GBP680m (US$942.4m).