Interface could be hit by all out strike


Workers at Interface Europe in Silverwood were considering an all out strike today (Thursday) amid a flurry of negotiations in a bid to avoid the Friday action.

Trade Union Unite confirmed members were set to take action following a ballot where 87.5% voted for strike action amid last minute talks with the Labour Relations Agency in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Following intensive talks between the Unite and Interface at the LRA this week it is understood a ballot is to be taken on the latest offer from the international carpet manufacturing firm.

Workers on day and night shift are to be balloted over 24 hours and the outcome will not be known until Friday morning.

If the workers vote for it, strike action will begin at 12.30pm on tomorrow (Friday).

Unite organises over 90% of shopfloor workers, about 100 workers, at the global textile manufacturer’s Craigavon base.

Unite Regional Officer in Portadown, Sean McKeever, said: “Interface Inc. is one of the most successful carpet tile manufacturers in the world having bases in the Netherlands, Thailand, China and the US. The group’s 2013 Annual Report indicated that on total sales of $960 million, its ‘operating income’ was $96 million (or 10% of total turnover).

“While the company’s shareholders have benefited from this high rate of profit, our hard-working members have endured years of seeing their wages remain stagnant while inflation has spiked in the aftermath of the economic recession, leaving the value of their take-home pay declining in real terms.

“Our members have rejected the paltry pay increase of 1.75% offered by the company and refuse to have increases linked to changes to terms and conditions.

“Following the strength of the response to our initial consultative ballot, Unite hoped that in the intervening weeks common sense would prevail and that management would enter into meaningful discussions with a decent pay offer but this was not to be.

“This is a successful company which can well afford to share some of these profits by rewarding its low-paid workers with a decent pay rise. Workers will be initiating an all-out strike from the change of shift at 12.30pm on Friday 5th September”, Mr McKeever concluded.

A spokesperson for Interface told the Mail: “Interface is disappointed by the Union’s decision to strike, but not surprised given Unite’s obvious determination for industrial action from the very outset of these negotiations.

“Interface has made three separate offers to Unite in a genuine attempt to resolve this issue. These have included an unconditional 1.75% increase on the basic rate, or a 2.25% increase on the base rate with changes to an existing attendance bonus, which result in an increase in overall bonus from £360 to £480 per year for full attendance.

“These were unfortunately both rejected for reasons which Unite has still not made clear. In a final attempt to reach accommodation, Interface offered a two-year deal involving a 2.5% increase on the base rate for 2014-2015 along with the attendance bonus changes, plus a £100 one-off lump sum payment and a further 2.5% increase for 2015-2016.

“Interface is not aware of a better deal on offer from any other local employer, but despite this, Unite has again rejected this improved package.

“Regrettably, Unite’s determination for industrial action evidenced throughout these negotiations has prevented any rational approach which could have delivered an agreement for all parties. As a result, Interface rejected Unite’s last minute pressure to extend the period before they take strike action as a pointless delay of real constructive negotiations.

“Given that pay negotiations started in February there has already been more than enough time to reach agreement.

“Interface remain continually available in the more than adequate time remaining before strike action is taken for any genuine attempt to come to an agreement including the independent mediation services of the LRA who have just recently become directly involved.

“Interface has been strongly committed to its Craigavon factory, to its staff and to the local business community. Average earnings in the plant in recent years have outpaced inflation and last year were in excess of £24,000 per person.

“Employment in the plant has been steadily increasing and was set to grow further, something which will now have to be reconsidered in light of these annual strike threats. Needless to say Unite’s success in bringing about this strike action and its impact upon our customers will unfortunately be to the detriment of not just Interface but ultimately their own members.”

The statement from Interface is an amended version and not the earlier statement which appeared in print in the Lurgan Mail.