Strike vote in pay row at Ulster Carpets

Unite members at Ulster Carpets in Portadown are to vote on strike action with the union accusing managers of ‘moving the goalposts’ on wage negotiations.

The company is being challenged on its refusal to back date pay a deal which, the union claimed, is costing each worker £700.

Despite the sharp Covid downturn, the union claimed, Ulster Carpets Holdings Ltd ‘continued to enjoy success and rack up the profits’.

Meanwhile the company expressed disappointment the union had walked out of negotiations and said it was facing a 30 per cent reduction in demand.

A company image of the looms at Ulster Carpets which they say are not running at full capacity.

According to the union: “In 2021 the Holdings company turns a pre-tax profit of more than £1.3 million and the top line of the highest paid director was more than £326k.

“But in recent pay negotiations management refused to backdate the proposed pay increase to the annual pay date [May]. As a result Unite is now moving a strike ballot of its members in Ulster Carpets.”

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, offered her union’s wholehearted support of the workforce: “This manoeuvre by bosses is designed to deny workers at Ulster Carpets on average £700 each. By refusing to back date the deal the management are clearly ‘moving the goalposts’ of the negotiation.

“That’s not ‘good faith’ negotiating. Unite is fighting for the jobs pay and conditions of its members and make no mistake will back the Ulster Carpets workers in their fight for a proper pay deal.”

Ulster Carpets’ Managing Director Nick Coburn CBE is a prominent business champion in Northern Ireland, the union said.

The union added: “At a recent [Irish government] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sponsored Centre for Democracy and Peace Building Fellowship meeting, attended by Kate Nicholl the Lord Mayor of Belfast, he {Mr Coburn} claimed that ‘we don’t see Ulster Carpets as just a business but part of the fabric of our community’.”

Unite regional officer, Sean McKeever, challenged Mr Coburn on the gap between those words and the “arch-capitalist approach his business was taking to their own workforce”.

“Mr Nick Coburn CBE appears to enjoy the limelight presenting himself as a progressive employer. Sadly the reality is that there is a gaping chasm between his words in public forums and the arch-capitalist way in which his company treats its own workers.

“Management’s refusal to extend a proposed pay increase to the beginning of the negotiation date is just mean and it doesn’t sit too well with words about a business being part of the fabric of our society. Unite will not stand for this insult to the workers. We are now proceeding to ballot on all-out strike action at Ulster Carpets to secure pay justice for our members”, Mr McKeever concluded.

In response a Company spokesperson commented: “Ulster Carpets is extremely disappointed that the Unite representative chose to walk out during negotiations, with a significant three-year deal on the table following a series of constructive meetings between the company and Unite, one which would enhance its position as an employer offering terms and conditions in the top quartile in its sector.

“The Company’s offer exceeds other settlements recently agreed within the local area, many of those with businesses that have thrived during the pandemic. In contrast, the Company continues to suffer an ongoing 30% reduction in demand due to the adverse impact on the cruise and hospitality markets, and is making every effort to retain as many high value jobs as possible at its Portadown site.

“The Company remains committed to seeking a resolution, and would encourage Unite to meaningfully re-engage in discussions.