Talks opened up between Chep UK and Manchester Unite workers in pay dispute after two months of strike action

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said the company needs to ‘get serious and come back with a pay rise’

Talks have been initiated over a pay dispute at a pallet firm in Manchester where workers have been on strike for two months.

Unite workers at Chep UK Limited have been on strike since 17 December after the company refused to amend a below-inflation pay increase offer.

Why are the workers on strike?

Workers at Chep say the company is enjoying a ‘boom’ and making substantial profits, but they have only been offered a two per cent pay rise, significantly lower than inflation.

Chep supplies pallets to companies across the North West and its major customers include InBev, Heinz, Heineken, A&B Containers, Encric and TDS.

Workers voted overwhelmingly in December to initiate strike action, initially for four days in December, though this was extended to an all out strike after the dispute wasn’t resolved by 17 December.

The strike was voted for during a period when pallets were in particularly high demand across the North West.

Workers report that the strikes have already had a “considerable effect” on business at Chep, with “80 per cent” of delivery lorries refusing to cross picket lines to and turning away.

Prior to a demonstration on Tuesday (15 February) the company had failed to enter talks with the workers over the pay dispute, with the union’s regional officer previously noting that the dispute “could be easily resolved by Chep making a fair pay offer to its workers and entering into talks”.

Will the strike continue?

Several months in, support for the strike among workers is growing.

The workers recently renewed their mandate for strike action into the spring by a majority of 94%, up from around 70% previously.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This latest vote for strike action is a robust rejection of a pitiful offer from the company which would leave workers considerably worse off.

“Management needs to get serious and come back with a pay rise, not a cut in living standards. Our Chep members have the full and solid support of their union in their fight.”

Unite regional officer Ian McCluskey said: “Our members have been on continuous strike since 17 December for a decent pay rise from an employer whose profits soared during the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Chep UK said the company has “a long history of successful, good faith negotiations” and hopes an agreement will be reached soon.