A shopping cart in a grocery
Pilgrims Food Master's is facing backlash for issuing employees fire and rehire threat Alexas Fotos/Pixabay.com

UK-based food company Pilgrim's Food Masters is facing criticism for its plans to fire and rehire 1,000 employees. Pilgrim's Food Masters produces own-brand curries for major supermarkets such as Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Aldi and Morrisons.

The affected workers, based at Pilgrim's Food Masters' Southall -formerly known as Noon-facility- were informed that they would lose their jobs and be rehired with minimal sick pay, no paid breaks, and no Diwali holiday pay. The company's decision has been criticised for being unfair and unethical, given that the affected workers have been loyal employees for several years.

Although the company believes the budget cuts are necessary to economise, even as many companies are trying to re-strategise amid the cost of living crisis, it hasn't shown any evidence to back up the proposed changes to employees' terms and conditions.

The Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, which in June 2021, purchased the Kerry Food Group, including Noon, is appraised to be worth more than £4 billion globally.

According to financial records, Fabio Sandri, the company's current President and Chief Executive earns a whopping £6.5 million in compensation, which comprised a £700,000 salary and a £1.2 million bonus.

The records also showed that Mathew Galvanoni, Chief Financial Officer, earned £1.5 million and included a £400,000 incentive in addition to his basic salary of £300,000. This is in stark contrast to the fate of most of the employees who do not get paid breaks and have to work longer shifts.

Commenting on this, Perry Phillips, GMB London Region Organiser, bemoaned the disparity in income of employees at the food company, condemning the company's treatment of its staff

He continued: "Noons was a well-respected business that made a positive contribution to the local community. It is devastating for our members that this multibillion-dollar company has come in and is treating them so badly."

Phillips noted that GMB spoke with supermarket customers, who openly support GMB's demand that Pilgrim's Food Master adhere to the Ethical Trading Initiative codes of practice and plainly believe in investing in and valuing its employees.

Defending its decision, Pilgrim's Food Masters said it had to make the changes to sustain its business and "safeguard the jobs of its people." The food company blamed its fate on the tough economic environment and the decline in demand for its services.

The company stated that its goal throughout the whole process has always been to ensure the desired outcome for its employees. Pilgrim's Food Masters claims to have made the structural changes to bring its T &Cs in tandem with the industry standards and to secure its long-term sustainability.

The food company maintained that it is still in the middle of consulting with the GMB union and claims it is committed to retaining its skilled staff.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has thrown his support behind the Pilgrim's Food Masters staff, describing the practice of "fire and rehire" as an "unacceptable attack on workers' terms, conditions, and livelihoods." Khan took to Twitter to voice his support, stating that the GMB union members from Pilgrim's Food Masters have his full backing, and calling for an end to this "appalling practice."

The controversy began in December 2022, when GMB union members of Pilgrim's Food Masters, Spurway Greenfield site, rejected a small pay offer amid the ongoing cost of living crisis. The food company had recently announced the closure of its Southall plant, prompting union demands for contracts comparable to those provided to workers' equivalents at Noon Foods.

As the debate continues, many are calling for greater protections for workers' rights and fair wages, particularly in the face of the economic challenges in the UK. The situation at Pilgrim's Food Masters serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by workers across the UK, and the need for greater support and solidarity in the fight for fair treatment and decent pay