Unite said that its 2,500 members in the corrugated industry’s big three – DS Smith, SAICA and Smurfit Kappa – had voted to reject a 2.15% pay offer from the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) and would now hold a ballot on industrial action.
But the CPI argued that the pay offer was fair given the uncertain economic outlook and the continued difficulties that its members face with rising energy and raw materials costs.
Unite members voted nine to one to reject the pay offer. They will now vote on whether to go on strike but any action is thought unlikely to take place before January.
CPI director general David Workman said: “With the exception of this year, the corrugated industry has had a pretty torrid time recently but there have been annual pay increases.
“There are a number of things on the horizon that are of concern. Pulp and paper prices and energy costs are rising and there is uncertainty about the economic outlook.
“We are disappointed that the first ballot has gone against a settlement and we hope that when it comes to this further ballot on strike action, employees will take a step back and think hard about whether it is the best way forward.”
The threat of strike action could put pressure on a partnership approach that has characterised recent relations between Unite and the CPI that has led to progress in areas such as health and safety. Workman said that he hoped the current dispute would not damage that relationship in the long term.
Unite national officer Peter Ellis said that the union may have settled on a “modest improvement” to the CPI’s offer at talks in early October.
“But the CPI insisted that a pay settlement at less than half the RPI was as far as it was prepared to go,” he said.
“The aim is for a far higher settlement than could have been achieved by a continuation of the partnership approach, that has set us in such good stead over recent years.”