Workers at one of Heinz’s major UK plants are preparing for industrial action over a pay dispute.

Unite, the union representing staff at the Wigan-based factory, said workers are angry that Heinz has offered them a below-inflation rise this year and capped the increase for next year at 3%. The union has claimed that Heinz “has found the cash to reward shareholders by three times more”.

Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for food and drink, said there was “absolutely no need for Heinz to be so stingy”. She said: “The baked beans produced here are favourites in every household in the land. In these difficult economic times, Heinz is doing exceptionally well with massive profits this year and forecasts to do the same in 2011.”

Formby told just-food: “Heinz has made it clear that this is its final offer. In a ballot, the vote was rejected by 90% of workers, with an 84% turnout.”

She said that Unite is now preparing to ballot staff over industrial action, and should members support the move, strike action is likely to take place in early December.

Formby emphasised that the union remains open for negotiations. “I have made it clear to senior management that I would be willing to meet at any time. But they have no wish to do that at the moment. We remain open to negotiation, should they wish to talk to us.”

However, Nigel Dickie, Heinz UK’s director of corporate and government affairs, told just-food that the company was “perplexed” that an industrial action ballot is being held.

Dickie said the offer of a 3.3% pay increase this year and another of up to 3% next year has been acknowledged by union representatives as the “best that can be achieved”. Additionally, Dickie said Heinz is offering an annual non-performance related payment of two weeks basic pay, a one-off payment of GBP200 (US$321.5) plus significant improvements to the healthcare scheme.

“Against an uncertain economic economic climate and severe government cutbacks this is a great deal for Heinz people in Wigan but the current action being contemplated will leave many totally baffled,” Dickie said today (1 November).