From the Eat Kitchen in Wembley, north west London, 200 workers keep the food chain’s stores stocked across the capital.
Bosses boast that “our team at the kitchen are a busy lot”. Unluckily for them, workers have been busy organising a union. They overwhelmingly backed recognition for their GMB union in a workplace ballot last week.
GMB organiser Hiten Vaidya told Socialist Worker, “The company took away workers’ paid breaks and reduced their hours from 40 to 35 a week without any proper consultation.
“But the final straw came when the company wanted to introduce a worse contract.”
There is a sprawling food production and supply industry across north west London. Throughout these food factories, such as Eat Kitchen, the workforce is made up of largely migrant workers and their children.
Hiten said, “Many of the workers are Asian and English is not their first language.
“If the management tells them, ‘This is changing from tomorrow’, the workers might not know they can’t do that.
“When this is the case, it’s important for the union to tell people about their rights.”
Hiten explained how bosses protect their profits. “Many workers are on zero hours contracts,” he said. “There are new people from agencies every day who have no experience of the food industry.
“That creates a lot of issues—including compromising health and safety standards.”
But the GMB and the workers have shown it’s possible to organise in difficult circumstances.
So Asian workers labouring together in the food industry are maintaining a strong tradition of joining unions.
Hiten used to work at a Bakkavor food factory, where workers are unionised and have won improvements. “It’s the same community that works there,” he said.
This meant that when bosses announced the new contract a couple of workers came to the GMB office.
Hiten said, “We called a meeting in a big hall and invited everyone to come after work and then they joined the union.
“We got to the point where we had more than 50 percent in the union so we went for a voluntary recognition agreement.”
Even before workers backed recognition, the union had already won some things back because bosses could see it was growing.
Hiten said, “We’ve got the paid breaks back and holiday pay, the only outstanding issue is getting back the 40 hours a week.”
The workers will be in a stronger position to fight on these issues after they signed the agreement last week.
For all the talk about workers losing their power to take on the bosses, workers at Eat Kitchen have shown that it’s possible to organise and fight back.