Samworth Brothers’ “Very Happy” Workers and Their Bid For Union Recognition

On Sunday a protest was held outside “a Samworth Brothers factory in Melton Mowbray over the dismissal of Kumaran Bose, a team leader at the company’s Kettleby Foods operation.” The brief 147 word article reporting on this event in the Leicester Mercury (June 28), although welcome, was underwhelming to say the least.

Notably, the Mercury did print a picture of a small section of the fairly large protest, which contained the limited caption: “Dismissed Kettleby Food worker, Kumaran Bose, front, and supporters.” What the article failed to mention was that standing just behind Kumaran (in their picture) was Labour MP for Leeds East, Richard Burgon.

Kumaran protest with Richard Burgon

Clearly it is not a regular event when a member of the Shadow Cabinet makes the effort to travel from another city to join a local protest in defence of trade union rights on a site in the middle of the countryside.

In this instance the Mercury cannot use the excuse that they did not know Burgon was in attendance at the site, as immediately after the protest ended a video of his rousing defence of Kumaran was posted online. Furthermore, Burgon’s newsworthy speech was emailed to the newspaper that same night.

This important oversight is all the more worrying because, on the same day that the short protest article was published, the Mercury published a glowing and intimate 1,266 word article about how good a deal the Samworth Brothers bosses were giving to their workers.

The generous pro-Samworth article was based upon an interview with CEO Alex Knight and was titled “Samworth Brothers boss breaks silence to set record straight over pay row.”

Apparently Mr Knight, who is presently overseeing a vile climate of bullying at his factories, was “keen to come out of his self-imposed purdah to explain the background to the pay review.” More to the point, the Mercury reported: “He wants to end months of bad publicity and set the record straight.”

There can be little doubt that this attempt to overcome the negative publicity Samworth Brothers have incurred for the poor treatment of their staff was inspired by Sunday’s protest which was supported by trade unionists and members of public from all across the country.

Another reason for Mr Knight’s dramatic emergence from his “self-imposed purdah” probably owed much to his desire to pre-empt criticisms of his company contained in a TV documentary “Are You Owed a Pay Rise?” which was produced by Dispatches for Channel 4 and was meant to be aired on Monday night. Although as it turned out, the airing of this documentary was cancelled at the last minute to make way for an extended news item about the attacks on the Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party (which includes Mr Burgon).

Nevertheless, Mr Knight used his space in the Mercury to talk utter nonsense about Samworth’s efforts to help their workforce, when it is obvious to all that this is not the case, hence their naming and shaming in Parliament earlier in the year.
According to Mr Knight, premium rates for working unsocial hours were cut to help workers, that is, “to balance out” the pay for all workers in line with lower rates of basic pay.

Mr Knight was delighted to boast about Samworth’s benefits package, which he says is “industry-leading without a doubt.” This includes “private health care for all full-time staff” but not for part-time staff. Moreover, as the article does not bother to consult with Samworth workers’ about the truth behind such claims, the article makes no mention of the fact that staff have been told by management that if they join a union they will not be entitled to benefit from Samworth’s generous health care scheme!

Having created a climate of fear in their factories, Samworth bosses then sacked Kumaran Bose for succeeding in recruiting more than half of the people in his factory to the Bakers Union. This is why Mr Knight is very keen to emphasize that he has a “very loyal, very happy workforce”.

Alex Knight

One way that his workers have visibly demonstrated their ‘happiness’ with their authoritarian bosses is by joining the union in their hundreds. Mr Knight is clearly perturbed by this unusual method of his a “very loyal, very happy workforce” displaying contentedness, and so he admits “What has been concerning for us is that there were some people who were disgruntled.”

Keen to put a positive spin on his workers attempts to gain official union recognition in their workplace — so they can speak collectively though a union — “Mr Knight said 99.97 per cent of employees affected by the pay review have signed new contracts.” A strange contradiction that may have something to do with those same workers’ being threatened with unemployment if they don’t sign their new contracts.

If you want to help the growing campaign to help Samworth workers’ then take a minute or two to email Tesco and Marks and Spencer to ask them to stop stocking products produced by a bullying company like Samworth Brothers: Kris.comerford@uk.tesco.com Guy.meakin@marks-and-spencer.com

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