Unite has suspended strike action at Smurfit Kappa's Northampton corrugated facility while it awaits the outcome of an appeal against the sacking of two of its senior stewards at the plant.
The union had planned a four-day strike, for 17-20 April, but this was suspended to enable an internal appeal against the dismissal of the two union members to be heard by Smurfit Kappa last Friday.
Unite regional officer Mick Orpin said that the union had agreed to suspend the strike action to give the company time to hear the appeal and to make a decision on whether or not to reinstate the two dismissed employees.
He added that Unite's 108 members at the site had reiterated their support for their two colleagues at a mass meeting held on Sunday (19 April) and that the union could reinstate the strike if necessary without the need for another ballot (due to the fact the strike had only been suspended).
"Obviously, if the appeals fail, the strike remains very much on the cards. However, we are hopeful of a successful outcome, so we can rebuild relations with the company for the benefit of all," said Orpin.
Unite members at the plant instigated a month-long overtime ban and started working to rule on 24 March in a bid to get the two sacked senior stewards reinstated. A two-day strike was held on 1-2 April, following which plans for the four-day strike were announced.
Unite claims that the two men were dismissed because they "stood up to the company over 'race to the bottom' contracts and alleged incorrect bonus payments".
The union has taken Smurfit Kappa to court over the alleged incorrect bonus payments, which could potentially cost the company over £250,000. Orpin said that the two dismissed stewards were instrumental in bringing the claim as they had spotted a change in the way bonuses were paid almost 10 years ago, which went unnoticed at the time.
"We think it would have put around £2,000 into our members' pockets over that period [if the bonus payments had not been changed," he added.
Smufit Kappa has not commented on the matter.