Workers at Heinz’s flagship UK site have agreed to a temporary ceasefire in their ongoing dispute over pay after the baked beans maker tabled a revised offer.

The Unite union accepted an invitation to meet with Heinz yesterday (4 January), during which the US food group made an “improved” offer of a 3.5% pay increase back-dated to April 2010, plus a GBP200 (US$312) one-off payment, and an increase of 3.4% in 2011 together with a performance related bonus.

Heinz also asked Unite to call off a strike planned for today and ballot workers on the revised deal, pleas that were accepted by the union.

“We have worked hard to improve, what we already believed was a very fair offer in order to bring an end to the dispute,” Heinz said. “Our offer is well above our competitors and UK average weekly earnings which are increasing by 1.7%. Heinz remains a top tier employer and payer.”

However, Jennie Formby, national officer for the Unite union, told just-food this morning that the new offer is “nowhere near the improvement needed to resolve the dispute”.

“We feel the company can afford more,” Formby said. “We don’t see why our members’ pay should be suppressed when shareholders’ dividends aren’t being suppressed. We have very reluctantly agreed to [consider the offer], but we have given notice of another strike date for 11 January if this offer is rejected.”

She added: “There will be a secret ballot, but we are fairly sure that it will be rejected because the company just aren’t listening. We really hope they start talking to us seriously soon.”

Formby said the union are looking for a pay increase in excess of 4%.

However, a spokesperson for Heinz reiterated to just-food that the improved offer is “the best offer we have” and “a very good deal”.

While the spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of further strike action, he said: “We look forward to seeing what the outcome of the ballot will be.”

Asked whether the dispute, which has resulted in four 24-hour strikes to date, has affected Heinz ability to supply to UK retailers, the spokesperson said: “Supplies continue to be available and we have been working very hard to ensure supplies have not been affected. Availability continues.”

An answer on the ballot is expected before the next planned strike date of 11 January.