UK: World Cup sponsor Coke's sneak attack on pay and pensions leaves a bitter taste

Strike ballot to begin this week, says UNITE press release.

World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola could see supplies of the soft drink dry up this summer in the UK unless it reverses its decision to freeze its workforce out of discussions on their own pay and pensions.

Unite, the UK’s biggest trade union, will this week give notice of a ballot for industrial action of its 2,000 plus members at Coca Cola Enterprise (CCE) over management’s refusal to consult or negotiate with the union on major changes to key conditions of employment.

Despite massive success, particularly in the UK where earlier this year it became the first ever brand to break through the £1 billion sales barrier, CCE recently announced damaging changes to the pension scheme which will see workers forced to work to 65 instead of 60 unless they are willing to accept a loss of up to a quarter of their pension.

The company also refuses to negotiate basic pay increases, conceding only that workers can earn additional payments if they give up hard fought-for conditions. Despite inflation for this year running at 5.3 percent, CCE has offered the workforce a measly 2 percent, again refusing to negotiate with or even consult the recognised trade unions on the matter, choosing instead to use a company forum made up predominantly of management and non-union representatives.

Coke workers have been further angered to learn that CEO John Brock’s pension pot currently stands at a cool $3.5 million for just 11 and a half years' service.

The ballot could see strike action at the drinks giant over the summer period.

Jennie Formby, Unite national officer for the food, drink and tobacco sector, said: “Presumably, CCE understands that the World Cup it sponsors stands for fair play. But where is the fair play in sneakily attacking members' pay and pensions while freezing the workers' representatives out of any discussions on the matter? CCE is seeking to attack our members’ wages but are rewarding senior executives groaning pension pots.

"CCE has shown no interest in the very reasonable alternatives we put forward. Changes could have been agreed through negotiation, but CCE seems determined to force a confrontation by imposing without consultation.

"This is just the latest in a whole number of changes to policies that the recognised unions have not been consulted over. Our members have now had enough of being shut out of discussions on maters of fundamental importance to them. Coca Cola companies globally have a reputation of resistance to trade unions . Their dismissive treatment of the workforce here shows the UK is clearly no exception to this shabby rule."

Unite has around 2,000 members in Coca Cola’s production and distribution sites at Wakefield, East Kilbride, Northampton, Sidcup, Milton Keynes, Edmonton and Enfield with smaller satellite sites at Bristol, Southampton and Exeter. GMB has approximately 80 production members at Milton Keynes.

See UNITE press release.