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Debbie Leighton and Dianne Power
Job title
Canteen workers
After working through the pandemic, a group of outsourced canteen workers working at Drax power station felt the cost-of-living crisis starting to bite.

Then paid £10.90 per hour, soaring food prices, energy bills and petrol prices meant the workers noticed their wages were not stretching as far as they used to.  

Debbie Leighton, who had worked in the Drax canteen for 15 years, started asking management for a pay rise.  

Her calls for fairer pay fell on deaf ears. But as a Unite member, Debbie knew there was power in union. Soon, she started signing up her colleagues to Unite, who helped the workers organise strike action.  

Here, Debbie and her colleague Dianne Power, both 53, tell the Solidarity Hub how six weeks on the picket line helped them secure a 19% pay uplift.  

Debbie said: “We were paid the Living Wage, which at the time was £10.90 an hour. 

“The Living Wage went up in October, but we weren’t given the new rate until the following April, so we were six months in arrears.  

“I felt really unappreciated, especially after working through Covid. I worked through the whole pandemic and took all the precautions, didn’t see my family so I could go to work. But there was no appreciation. 

“So, I went to my manager and said: can we have a pay rise?”  

When Debbie’s request was ignored, she turned to her colleagues and, with the help of Dianne, started convincing others to join the union. 

Debbie and Dianne said: ‘We went around telling people that they needed the union, that if they ever needed help the union would be there.  

“Everybody wanted a pay rise, but nobody knew how to fight for it. We just said if we fight together as a group and we do it collectively, we can win.” 

Soon, Debbie and Dianne had managed to convince the majority of their colleagues to join Unite.  

When attempts at negotiations over pay failed, Debbie, Dianne and their colleagues started organising strike action with the help of their union.  

Dianne said: “Every meeting we had there was no meaningful conversation about a pay rise. Management told us there were no funds, and that there was no wriggle room. It was like they were reading from a script.” 

After a ballot for industrial action, Debbie, Dianne and 15 of their colleagues – 90% of the workforce – voted to strike in December 2023. 

Debbie and Dianne said: “You haven’t got a clue how cold it was on that picket line. We had rain, sleet. You name it, we got it.


“We kept morale up with music playing, snacks. We all had our Christmas headbands on singing away.”  

After six weeks of strike action taken over a three-month period, in May 2024 BaxterStorey and Unite agreed to a 19% pay uplift – an extra £1 an hour.  

Dianne said: “When we got the news it was anticlimactical really. We felt relief. But we were determined to go out on strike again [had the employer not met our demands.  

“We would still be stood out there now if we’d needed to.”  

Now, the Drax canteen workers are fighting for union recognition in their workplace.  

And they have a message for other outsourced workers who believe they deserve fairer pay and conditions.  

Dianne said: “I would tell other workers to stand strong, stand as a team, and don’t give up. Use your feet as your words.” 

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