Coke strike threat to World Cup supplies

MORE than 2,000 UK workers at Coca-Cola, including staff at its manufacturing and distribution facility in East Kilbride, are set to vote on possible strike action.

The Unite and GMB unions said Coca-Cola Enterprises, the bottler for the US group in North America and western Europe, had refused a claim for national bargaining from its workforce. The claim was made in the wake of what the unions described as "a sneak attack" on pay and pensions.

Unite, which represents about 2,000 of the workers to be balloted, said a strike could see soft drink supplies running low before the close of the World Cup, which is being sponsored by Coca-Cola. Union representatives expect to have voting results by the end of the month, with any industrial action likely to follow in July.

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The unions accused CCE of refusing to consult on major changes to conditions of employment such as requirements for staff to work an extra five years to the age of 65 or risk losing up to a quarter of their pension. They are also disputing the implementation of a 2 per cent pay rise, which they say was rubber-stamped by a company forum comprised "predominantly of management and non-union representatives".

Unite, which represents the workers at East Kilbride, said CCE's behaviour did not reflect the ideals of fair play embodied within the World Cup competition. Jennie Formby, the union's national officer for the food, drink and tobacco sector, highlighted the inequity between the changes to workers' pension arrangements and the retirement pot of CCE chief executive John Brock, which is currently worth $3.5m (2.4m) after less than 12 years' service.

"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 is seeking to attack our members' wages but is rewarding senior executives' groaning pension pots," Formby said.

The unions are required to give seven days' notice before holding a strike ballot.

A spokeswoman for CCE said yesterday that the company had not yet received that notice.