Coca-Cola workers to vote on strike action

Thousands of workers at drinks giant Coca-Cola are to be balloted for industrial action in a row over employment conditions and bargaining rights, it was announced today.

Unite and the GMB unions said the ballot results will be known at the end of the month, with any action likely to be held in July.

The unions accused the company of refusing to consult on major changes to conditions of employment, and of not negotiating on basic pay increases.

Workers at 12 sites across the UK will start voting on Friday, the first day of the soccer World Cup, which Coca-Cola is sponsoring.

GMB official Alan Costello said: "The Coca-Cola workforce are seeking national bargaining and the management have turned this down.

"The next step is to move to a formal ballot for strike action as employees have already voted by 96% in a consultative ballot to take strike action to secure national bargaining covering all the sites."

Unite national officer Jennie Formby said: "Presumably, Coca-Cola Enterprise (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 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 matters of fundamental importance to them."

A company spokesman said: "CCE is very disappointed by the trade unions' intent to ballot for industrial action. We remain in and are committed to dialogue with all our employees and with the unions, and we firmly believe this offers the prospect of a constructive outcome - unlike industrial action.

"We have been talking to the unions in detail and frequently over recent weeks. We intend to continue this approach to reach a constructive outcome that addresses current issues and sets a robust framework for future discussions.

"In the current economic climate, the pay rises that CCE is offering are very competitive. Top of our agenda for discussion with the unions is agreeing the right approach to managing future pay negotiations.

"Changes to our defined benefit pension scheme followed a full consultation process directly with our employees and employee representatives. We informed the unions at the start of that process and listened to their feedback throughout.

"The defined benefit pension scheme will remain in place. It will now be more sustainable for the future and remains a very competitive and positive benefit for employees who are members."