Chep UK pallet workers in Greater Manchester have won a massively improved pay deal after a 21 week-long strike. The 68 Unite union members’ action secured a two-year deal. It consists of a 9 percent pay rise from now until next year, and a 5 percent backdated pay rise in cash to July 2021 when talks started. The pay rise is equivalent to £2,500 a year.
Unite rep and striker Gary Walker told Socialist Worker, “We see this as a massive victory. We’re going back galvanised and with faith that you can push back on the company.”
Overall, 48 strikers voted in favour of the deal, 22 voted no and seven abstained. Some workers wanted a higher pay rise, with others wanting to push for a more back pay or stay out on strike for longer.
A week before the latest offer, the strikers voted 89 percent against a different deal. Chep arranged a meeting for the next day to offer the current deal. “I think it dawned on them that another 12 week ballot was on its way. Our rejection told the company we were prepared to vote yes,” Gary explained.
“That must’ve really rattled them. We knew that they were playing games and didn’t want to concede too early. But we stuck to our guns and rejected at least five offers because we knew there was more to be had. There were a few who thought we shouldn’t have taken this and held out.”
Gary explained that there had been “some contentious issues with backpay” that dragged the dispute out. The company didn’t want to give a penny in back pay. “We haggled for ages and we went high and settled nearer to what we wanted than what they wanted,” he said. “They kept telling us the pot was empty and we didn’t believe them and that there was more.” Chep’s offer of backpay went from nothing to £250. It then continued to rise to £750 over multiple meetings.
Those who didn’t strike would’ve received higher backpay. The strikers agreed a cash settlement that was the same for everyone—around £1,000—for the first year and extra holidays for the second. Although the strike is over, Gary said, “There is a lot to do. We have to get organised now—the key within Unite is to build a combine.”
Gary added that going forward other issues such as heavy-handed disciplinary tactics and health and safety will be monitored. “We want to have a voice in the workplace,” he said. “It’s not just about pay, but listening to us rather than their top down approach.”
Lack of foresight around planning, training and rota rotations has led to one 32 year old worker needing surgery. “The power tools crippled his hands,” Gary said. “He’s been working here for eight years and now he can’t do a physical manual labour job ever again. We need to be resilient and ready going forward.”
Other depots still earn more than the workers in Manchester. But Gary says that, as a result of this dispute, the next pay talks will ensure all workers are brought in line. “The Pontefract depot in North Yorkshire is run by GMB union and they earn a lot more money than us,” he said.
“We need to work together now and strike some sort of bargaining position. They can’t play us off against each other anymore, they’ve thrived on that for years.”
Gary added that the Chep strikers want other workers to see that they can fight back too. “We’re normal working class people,” he said. “Nobody has ever given us a leg up in life, yet we’ve come together as a group and taken on a huge worldwide company and won.
“We need to get the message out now. Anyone wavering or having second thoughts about striking or which way to go—look at what we’ve just done.”
The longest strike in Unite’s history has led to a huge pay increase from the 1.8 and 2 percent pay offers Chep originally gave. Almost a third of the strikers voted against the deal, which doesn’t beat the present RPI rate of inflation.
The strikers’ battle demonstrated what can be won when workers take action together and strike. Everyone should take inspiration from the Chep UK strike as the cost of living crisis continues to spiral.
A warning from a director of West Midlands Ambulance Service
Cops handcuffed trade unionists
One-off payments aren’t enough
IWGB union members fight back