FACTORY workers have kicked-off four weeks of strike action in a row over new contracts proposed by a South Tyneside-based clothing firm.
Warehouse staff at J Barbour and Sons had hoped the start of the new year would bring fresh negotiations to avoid industrial action.
However, according to Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown, no new talks have been arranged, and workers took their place on the picket line yesterday.
The row is being taken by members of the Unite union who are unhappy at changes to their contracts which, they say, will see the removal of unsocial hours payments, and the requirement to work until 11pm.
The company, which is based on the Simonside Industrial Estate, South Shields, says the new proposed shift pattern would be from 7am to 3pm and 2.30pm to 10.30pm, and that the deal offers workers substantial pay rises.
The dispute centres on the firm’s warehouses, in Wardley, Gateshead, and involves 134 of the firm’s 600 North East workers.
Ms Brown said: “There had been optimism from our members this morning that strike action could be avoided. But there has been no response from the company at all, so nothing has changed.
“We are receiving a lot of support for our members, and there has been talk that the situation in the warehouse is chaos.
“This action is not what we want but our members have been left with no choice, and have not taken this decision lightly.”
Steve Buck, the firm’s managing director said: “We are very disappointed that we have not been able to reach agreement with the union over the introduction of these new shift patterns.
“We have been in consultation with our warehouse employees since May 2014 and have done everything possible to resolve their concerns.
“We have 160 people working in our warehouse. Of these, 65 are in the union and of those that voted, only 33 wanted strike action. The remainder of our warehouse staff are still working.
“In order to compete as a brand, we need to evolve with modern day working practices that are common in the industry in order to remain competitive. This is why we need to introduce shift patterns that are commonplace in warehousing.
“Many of our staff members are supportive of this, and everyone has had time to plan and consider the shift changes since being notified of the proposals in May last year. Any changes will come into effect at the end of March this year.
“It is hugely regrettable that this small number of union members have decided to take this divisive action, and we will continue to work hard to resolve this.”