Premier Foods plc and the union representing workers at the group’s Hovis bakery in Wigan opened talks today (19 September) in a bid to stave off a third week of strikes.

Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union, told just-food initial talks between kicked off this morning. “Talks at Hovis have commenced today and there is the potential for higher level talks on the question of rebuilding trust at the Wigan site.”

However, Draper added the union has not – as yet – called off its plans to launch a third week of strike action. “At the time of writing we still have a third week of strike action planned,” he revealed.

BFAWU members launched industrial action in Wigan to protest the use of agency workers, which cost the company about half the amount of contracted workers, the union said. Premier has insisted the use of agency workers is necessary to provide the business with a degree of flexibility, but the union has suggested it is a way of cutting payroll costs “by stealth”.

Premier said it hoped a dialogue between management and union officials would address “what appears to be an underlying breakdown in trust at the site”.

“We continue to search for a satisfactory outcome to the dispute. It’s critically important that both sides engage in constructive dialogue about how best to ensure the competitiveness of the Wigan bakery in the interests of everyone that works at the site.”

A spokesperson for Premier told just-food the group has been able to “keep supplies of Hovis flowing” during the two previous week-long strikes.

However, Draper warned that – should the third strike go ahead – it would be “the most effective to date”.

“We remain hopeful that an end to this bitter but totally justified action can be averted,” he added.