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Fish supplier accused of ‘sleight of hand’ over national living wage

11 March 2016

A Grimsby-based chilled fish supplier has been accused of “jiggery-pokery” in paying for the new national living wage by slashing overtime rates.

Icelandic Seachill, the company behind brands like the Saucy Fish Co., was censured for the move by Unite, the country’s biggest union. 

The union is worried this practice could become widespread across the country when companies become legally obliged to pay the new national living wage of £7.20 per hour from April 1. 

Unite regional officer Dave Monaghan said: “Our members are extremely angry at this jiggery-pokery and call on the management to put an end to this bad idea regarding the overtime rates. 

“Without the enormous amount of overtime that our members put in this profitable company would not be able to generate tens of millions in sales a year. 

“Now the management is using this outrageous sleight of hand to reduce the living standards of our members who rely greatly on overtime to boost their already low wages. 

“Our members are signing a petition in protest making it clear they will not accept the imposition of reduced overtime rates. The prospect of an industrial action ballot would be highly likely.” 

The company employs 400 staff at the factory in Grimsby. According to its website, it has 1,400 staff at three factories across the country. 

The bosses at the Laforey Road plant intend to pay the 400 process operators £7.35 per hour. The normal week is 40 hours, but the workers are required to work every other weekend on overtime. Therefore, a week can easily average between 50 and 60 hours i.e. 10-20 hours of overtime. 

However, the company intends to slash overtime rates. For example, the current double time of £7.20 per hour (£14.40) is set to be reduced to time and a quarter at £7.35 (£9.19), meaning that the company is saving £5.21 per hour at the workers’ expense. 

Dave Monaghan added: “When chancellor George Osborne introduced the so-called ‘national living wage’, which we believe is not enough anyway, its aim was to raise the income of the lower paid, it wasn’t meant to be dodged by unscrupulous companies to boost their profits. 

“We suspect that this is a ruse that other businesses in the UK will use to get around this legislation – Unite will be on high alert to stamp on this, if it comes to our attention.”   

Icelandic Seachill said in a statement the changes were being considered as part of a 45 day consultation with workers, and had not been fully approved. 

However, it said in a statement “these changes are required to ensure that Icelandic Seachill maintain competitiveness and retain their existing contracts with customers”.

Simon Smith, MD of Icelandic Seachill added: “We recognise any changes to pay structure can cause apprehension which is why we’re consulting with employees. 

“Until this consultation period ends we cannot comment further on what changes will be made. I want to reassure our employees that we will always endeavour to provide a fair package and take their needs into consideration.”

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