Strike action at Premier Foods plc’ Hovis bakery in Wigan has ended after a deal between the UK food group and unions brought two weeks of industrial action to a close.

Staff had picketed the plant over the use of agency workers and zero-hour contracts. Talks started on Thursday to try to bring an end to the action and to stave off the threat of a third week of strikes.

A deal was announced yesterday that will see any agency employee who works a minimum of thirty-nine hours a week for twelve consecutive weeks moved to “parity pay”, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union said. Premier has also pledged not to use zero-hour contracts provided by a third party, adding to its decision to end its use of the contracts, the union said.

BFAWU members had claimed agency workers cost the company about half the amount of contracted workers. Premier had insisted the use of agency workers is necessary to provide the business with a degree of flexibility, but the union had suggested it is a way of cutting payroll costs “by stealth”.

“This landmark action by two hundred and ten members of a modest-sized union along with meaningful negotiations with the company has brought about significant change that could potentially have a positive knock-on effect throughout the entire labour movement,” Geoff Atkinson, regional secretary at the BFAWU, said. “This result is one that can and should be used as a starting point for all UK workers. They should no longer be prepared to accept the driving down of their terms and conditions as part of a nationwide race to the bottom.”

Premier said it was “delighted” with the deal, which it said “gets our people back to work as it’s been a difficult time for all concerned”.

The company added: “The agreement reinforces our previous assurances that the Company has no intention of replacing permanent employees with agency staff or using agency staff as a lever to erode existing employees’ terms and conditions.

“In the event of temporary labour shortages, the union has committed that such shortages will be covered by existing employees utilising overtime and banked hours. 

“In the unlikely event that this is not possible, it is then agreed that the company can use agency staff to cover any gaps.”