Co-op coffin factory workers begin further strike action over pay

Stoppage at Glasgow site to continue until 16 January as months-long dispute continues

Workers at the Co-op’s only UK coffin factory, in Scotland, have gone on strike again in a months-long row over pay.

The Unite union said coffin makers at the Funeralcare site in Govan, Glasgow, began strike action on Wednesday that would run continuously through to 16 January. There have been several week-long strikes since October.

The union says Co-op bosses have failed to make an acceptable offer to resolve the dispute, while the company says its offer is fair and needs to be proportionate to the offers made to the group’s overall workforce of 60,000.

The company said it had agreed a further meeting with Unite next week in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

Unite claimed the Funeralcare company spent more than £1m last year buying coffins from third-party suppliers at a time when the dispute could have been resolved for “a fraction of this cost”.

The Co-op disputed this, and said it had always bought coffins from other suppliers as it sold a much wider range than the Govan factory could produce. The site makes standard-size solid wood and veneer coffins.

The Co-op offers a range of 27 coffins on its website, starting at £350 for a cardboard coffin, and including picture and engraved coffins as well as ones made from bamboo, willow, wool and banana leaf. The most expensive is £2,650 for a “white rose casket”. Customers can also design their own, prices on request.

About 50 workers are involved in the strike action after they were offered a 4% pay rise for 2022 and 5% for 2023, which was rejected. Inflation has soared to a 40-year high, running at 10.7% in November, down from 11.1% in October.

Unite declined to say what figure it was looking for, but Willie Thomson, a Unite regional officer, said: “Presently they have not come near that figure with the offer they have made.”

The factory employs 59 people and some production has continued. The Co-op said the strikes had had no impact on its supply of coffins.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “It’s simply disgraceful that the Co-op, an employer that can easily afford to raise pay, would rather waste £1m on alternative products and see this dispute stretch into its fourth month than pay its workforce fairly.

“Unite’s members are resolute and they continue to show their determination in this fight. The Co-op’s management is clearly trying to break its own loyal workforce, but Unite will back our members all the way in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

Thomson added: “We repeat our call that it’s time for [Co-op’s] chief executive, Shirine Khoury-Haq, to become directly involved if they have any interest in salvaging their reputation.”

The Co-op said: We are disappointed to be facing further strike action relating to pay from colleagues in our coffin factory, particularly given our recent pay offer, which represented a significant increase for colleagues. We were disappointed that Unite chose not to even ballot their members on this offer.

“As a major national employer of almost 60,000 colleagues that is facing high inflation and increased costs, we have worked hard to balance the requests from our 59 employees at the coffin factory with our wider colleague population. The colleagues at our coffin factory are highly valued. They have received annual pay increases and production bonuses.”

The company said the dispute had been about pay, and that working conditions came up just after Christmas for the first time. It said it had asked the union for more information.


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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