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Hovis factory, Belfast.

Hovis factory, Belfast. Photo: Google Maps, 2021 Google

After eleven days of strike action, BFAWU and Unite members at the Hovis factory in Belfast have won their dispute, reports Chris Neville

Workers for two trade unions, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union and Unite have secured a victory for increased pay after eleven straight days of strike action.

Members from the two unions at Hovis in Belfast committed to continuous strike action in response to a pay offer of 3% that was deemed to be a slap in the face after their hard work throughout the Covid pandemic. Unite had said that the 3% on offer fell short of parity with workers in Britain and had demanded 10%. They also pointed to Hovis' 2020 profits of nearly £20 million.

Workers in this sector have a relatively strong position when it comes to some of the threats bosses can put on workers demanding more. The logistics of outsourcing a short shelf-life product like bread means its production can't be easily offshored to countries with cheaper labour for example.

It was reported that "not a single loaf of bread was baked in 12 days, and supermarket and retailer shelves have been left bare of Hovis bread". Police moved picketers on, citing Covid regulations at one point but were then legally challenged by the unions and had to back down. There were also some strong displays of solidarity from other workers. Strikers from another dispute at Queen's University marched to the picket to show their support on 19 May.

Although the initial demand of a 10% increase wasn't met, the unions have secured an 8% raise spread across two years, with the first 4% backdated to the beginning of this year. The Labour Relations Agency will also conduct an audit of working practices to address other issues of concern.

In the context of the current situation, where many strikes are being waged to protect existing pay and conditions, strike action for an increase to existing terms (even if to secure parity with others) is a welcome sight.

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