Emergency union talks after workers occupy Bootle factory

Report by John Millington, Union News
First Published: 18/02/12

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Unite has called for a mass protest on Monday outside a packaging plant on Merseyside in support of workers who occupied the factory following a management lockout.

Dozens of workers at Austrian-owned Mayr-Melnhof Packaging in Bootle, staged an occupation after redundancy talks broke down.

Up to 40 workers entered the site at 11. 30am telling MMP bosses that nothing would move in or out of the site until employers met with their Unite union representatives for emergency negotiations.

The unofficial action was sparked following official strike action the previous day against 37 redundancies at the firm. Yesterday, employees went on strike holding a demonstration on site, having scheduled further official action for today.

MMP bosses responded by taking the almost unprecedented step of “locking out” the workers.

Labour history experts have told UnionNews the last lock out by bosses in Britain took place in the graphical and print industry in 1958 more than half a century ago.

Within the last few hours, management at MMP have agreed to talk with Unite officials and the occupation has been suspended.

Speaking exclusively to UnionNews, Unite National Officer Ian Tonk said: “In 20 years as an official in the British trade union movement, this is my first lockout.

“A lockout is where management write to workers telling them not to come into work. It is an American way of conducting industrial relations.”

This evening, MMP bosses agreed to crunch talks with Unite negotiators on Monday. No trucks or stock will be moved from the site between now and then, Unite sources said.

A mass protest by striking workers and supporters will take place at 10am at the Bootle plant.

Unite national officer Ian Tonks condemned bosses for not lifting the lockout but remained hopeful that they would see sense on Monday.

“A lockout is immoral in any circumstances and has not happened since 1953,” he pointed out.

“I fully understand the frustration that members felt, particularly when they genuinely thought they were in an official trade dispute.

“The frustration had built up after being locked out by the employer.”