Workers at the UK sugar arm of Associated British Foods have voted against industrial action and accepted the company’s pay offer.

In a surprise U-turn, British Sugar employees have accepted an offer that they initially rejected.

The company had put forward a 3.5% pay increase. Workers at had wanted a pay deal equal to the Retail Price Index measure of inflation, which is currently running at 5.2%. Staff also wanted a 0.5% supplement for 12 months from this April. 

The employees’ initial rejection led to the Unite union balloting workers at four British Sugar sites for industrial action.

However, Unite said today (7 October) that its 250 members at the plants at Wissington, near King’s Lynn; Cantley, near Great Yarmouth; Bury St Edmunds; and Newark in Nottinghamshire had “reluctantly accepted” the 3.5% pay offer”.

The ballot had two elements. The results showed that 57% opposed industrial action but workers also voted on action short of a strike, including bans on overtime. Some 51.9% of employees voted in favour of such action.

However, although there was a majority for an overtime ban, a spokesperson for Unite said it was so slim and the action would affect only 20 to 25% of staff . The spokesperson added that the ban was not a “viable option”.

Unite’s regional officer Tony Ellingford expressed Unite’s disappointment with the ballot.

“Most people are extremely dissatisfied … workers were not prepared to take industrial action but have accepted it in the current climate,” he said. “Our members did hold an industrial action ballot, but it was deemed that there was insufficient support, by a narrow margin, for such action.”

A spokesperson for British Sugar said: “We fully recognise and support the important role the trade unions undertake on behalf of their members. We feel we have always had a professional working relationship over the years and trust this will continue.”