Factory staff on picket line

STRIKING workers at Promens in Beccles formed a picket line yesterday - but their employer said that price increases meant they could not afford to give them a higher rise.

STRIKING workers at Promens in Beccles formed a picket line on two days this week as they stopped work in their protest over poor pay rises.

But with the company claiming it cannot afford to give them more and talks stalling, the union Unite is planning more stoppages next week.

Staff at the factory at the Ellough Industrial Estate, where it makes plastic packaging, braved heavy showers during Tuesday's walkout which began at 6am, but the weather was sunny for yesterday's second stoppage. Six people manned the picket line in a dispute over a 2.2pc pay rise offered by the company.

On Tuesday, Unite, which represents many of the 250 Promens workers, and the company said they hoped to restart their discussions.

But yesterday, Peter Watson, Unite's convener, said the union had had no contact with Promens. He said: “We have had none whatsoever. Ivan Crane, our regional industrial organiser, has tried to break the ice but nothing is forthcoming at the moment. We seem to have reached a stalemate.”

On Tuesday, Mr Crane had said: “We have said to the company we are prepared to sit down and resume negotiations. They have not responded yet. There are other strike dates in place but that's not what we want to do.

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“Our members have had below-inflation increases in pay for years. This year they have said enough is enough.”

Staff on the picket line yesterday remained determined. Trevor Layton, 43, from Lowestoft, said: “Some of the night shift workers who finished at 6am stayed here until 9am. We still feel strongly about it.”

At one stage, police asked some workers to leave the picket line because there were more than six there. Mr Watson said although the guidelines which limit picket lines to six people were part of a code of practice and not law, they had obeyed.

He added: “We are producing a peaceful strike. We are not intimidating anybody or leaving litter around. We are quite prepared to follow the code of practice.”

Sharon Hill, human-resources manager for Promens Packaging, said on Tuesday the company was disappointed with the decision to strike. She said: “We have seen significant increases in the prices of raw materials, oil, power and freight which have a reactive effect on the company's margins and viability… We have seen a downturn in market conditions within our operating sector and with the general population not buying as many products.”

But she said: “If the union representatives have options for our consideration, we would be happy to discuss them at any time.”

Yesterday's strike was due to end at 6am this morning. Further walkouts are planned on Tuesday and Thursday next week.