Workers at UK cakes and desserts firm Park Cakes could take industrial action over changes to employment contracts.

A ballot of staff at Park Cakes’ sites in Bolton and Oldham will be held next month to vote on whether to strike in protest at the changes. 

Union officials have accused Park Cakes, which supplies retailers including Marks and Spencer, of “misusing” legislation due to come into force on Saturday (1 October) to improve pay and conditions for agency staff.

Park Cakes employs around 500-700 agency workers. The new legislation aims to protect agency workers by stating that, after 12 weeks, if a company continues to use agency labour, they have to pay them the same rate of pay as permanent staff.

Roy Streeter, regional officer at the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), said the legislation aims to “stop companies using just agency labour”.

However, Streeter claimed Park Cakes had introduced “zero-hour contracts” to “get round” the new law. Through the zero-hour contracts, Park Cakes can, with 24 hours notice, reduce the agency staff’s working week and not allow them sick pay, have minimum wages and minimum holidays, Streeter said. These contracts will create a “two-tier system” and affect future agency workers and in turn future permanent workers. Park Cakes is “misusing” the legislation, he added.

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Park Cakes wants to employ 20-30 “core” workers, while the majority of the workforce will comprise of 500-700 agency employees paid using the zero-hour contract, the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson for the union added that Park Cakes do not want to pay agency staff the same rates as its core employees for 12 weeks, so the company can offset the payments that they should have paid to 500-700 agency labour staff.

For agency workers doing overtime, Park Cakes pays them time plus GBP0.28 (US$0.44). However, core workers receive time and half after 39 hours, time and a half for Saturday and double pay for Sunday.

Streeter said: “Our issue is to protect these people and obviously get them a permanent position in the future.”

Brand meetings are expected to take place this Saturday at both sites.

A spokesperson for Park Cakes said the company had not recruited any temporary staff but added: “There are 33 new permanent operative positions some of which are on a new part time shift and some are on full-time 39 hour contracts, which is normal full-time shift hours for our employees.

“A new contract has been introduced for future employees joining the business. Existing staff contracts are unaffected and staff will remain on their existing terms, the new contract is on statutory or higher wages depending on skills and experience. The company consulted with the unions on the introduction of new contracts for new employees but the union and company could not meet an agreement on the recruitment of new employees.”