Racist comments spark walkout, sit-in at chicken proccessing plant

Racist comments by security guards have led to wildcat action at Two Sisters Foods in Smethwick, UK.

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on September 4, 2009

Workers at a Black Country food processing firm are hailed the success of an unofficial walkout, after management sacked a security guard accused of making racist comments and agreed to come to the negotiating table.

More than 100 staff at Smethwick-based Two Sisters Foods staged a wildcat strike and police were called as their protest threatened to get out of hand.

There was a further demonstration outside the firm’s premises in Bevan Way before bosses agreed to meet senior officials from trade union Unite.

The background to the strike was an allegedly racist remark made by a security guard to shop steward Zohib Javid, who claimed that management refused to discuss the issue with him.

As the dispute escalated, union reps who gathered to discuss the issue were disciplined for leaving their place on the production line, where chicken pieces are prepared for major supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda.

Javid said: “This has been coming for a long time. There have been a lot of disputes”. He said the company didn’t take the guard’s comments seriously, and only sacked him after the walkout.

Management have now scheduled a talk with Unite for lunchtime.

“It’s not just this issue – the company has a lot of Asian workers who are new to the country, and they’ve been taking advantage of them.”

Staff at the Smethwick chicken processing factory are planning a third day of protests after sixty of their colleagues were suspended earlier in the week.

The sixty suspended staff are now planning a further demo outside the factory in Bevan Way on Friday morning, and there’s talk of action at a local supermarket.

According to Joe Clarke, Unite regional officer, the company is adding to tensions at the plant:

"We take allegations of racial abuse very seriously and would expect an employer to do so too. Regrettably, Two Sisters has failed to satisfy its workers that it will work with the union to address concerns of racial harassment at their workplace.

"The workers are clearly aggrieved at their response to the racial abuse allegations which, disgracefully, has been to suspend the convenor who raised the concerns and tried to resolve the matter. Of course we cannot support unofficial action but the company's ludicrous response to this situation is adding to tensions at the plant, and has wasted police time and disrupted production.

"This situation could all be solved if Two Sisters simply got around the table with Unite and the workers' lawful reps to sort out a solution. We urge Two Sisters to act responsibly and to talk to us immediately to defuse this tense situation."

A spokesman for Two Sisters, said they were dealing with a “minor issue affecting less than 10% of the workforce.”