Unite has urged Heinz to stop “playing games” and to get in touch with the union directly, after the company suggested it was ready to hold talks over pay amid growing industrial unrest at the business.

The US food group is at odds with workers at its flagship UK plant over pay and staff last week held a 24-hour strike after rejecting the company’s offer. Further stoppages are planned between now and the New Year, although both sides have said they are willing to get round the table and negotiate.

In a statement this morning (20 December), Heinz invited site union representatives to a meeting on Wednesday to enter into “constructive discussions” on the understanding that there can be “no pre-conditions to the meeting”.

“We have emphasised that we want these to be meaningful and two-way discussions,” Heinz said. “Unite indicated towards the end of last week they were prepared to meet if there was a willingness to discuss an improvement to the current offer but a meeting without pre-conditions to these discussions is the best way forward.”

However, Jennie Formby, national officer for the Unite union, told just-food this morning that the union was unaware of any offer of a meeting and that Heinz would do better to “stop their attempts at public relations and get in contact direct”.

“Nobody has contacted me to say they would like to meet without pre-conditions,” Formby said. “I have written to the company, and I chose to write directly to them rather than to release that information through the press. I wrote to them last week to say that we would talk, however there is no point in discussing anything unless the company is prepared to talk about an improvement to the offer that is currently on the table. Simply to move the proposal around is not going to win faith with our members.”

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Unite emailed Heinz on Wednesday to say that it would be willing to meet “at any time, should there be a willingness on the company’s part to discuss an improvement to the current offer”.

“The company is playing games,” Formby told just-food today. “If the company wish to take up our offer of a meeting, they need to get in touch with us directly as I contacted them directly. To release something to the media before they bother speaking to me sounds very much like game playing and we are not interested in that. These issues are far too important to our members.”

Formby said the planned stoppage at the Kitt Green plant from 06:00 tomorrow until 06:00 on Wednesday, will take place as planned. A further walkout is also expected before the year end.