UNION leaders believe the ghost of Christmas future convinced bosses at a North factory to change their minds about the time workers could take off during the holidays.

Unite had labelled 3M as a 'Scrooge employer' after staff were told for the first time in living memory they were expected to work the three days between Christmas and New Year.

But leaders this week welcomed a decision by management at the plant in Newton Aycliffe, which makes respirators and dusk masks, to allow most staff the time off.

The company has denied making a climbdown and said the move was based on a change to the volume of work now required over the festive period and suggested the union was unfairly linking the holiday issue with an ongoing pay dispute.

Unite claimed management had threatened to cancel Christmas after Unite members at the plant rejected a 1.5 per cent pay increase.

Leaders said in an about face this week, possibly following a visit from the ghost of Christmas future, managers had relented because there is now “no operational requirement” for the majority of the workforce to be in and just a handful of volunteers will be present.

A ballot of union members over whether to take strike action over the proposed pay increase, which is half the inflation rate and follows a series of below inflation pay increases in previous years, closes on Wednesday,they added.

Unite regional officer Mark Sanderson said: “Our members will be pleased and relieved that they will not be required to work between Christmas and New Year for the first time in living memory.

“Having seen reason on Christmas working we now need the employer to see reason on the pay increase, return to the negotiating table and make an offer that the dedicated workforce will be able to accept.

“Our members have seen pay rates eroded over recent years and are simply not going to accept cuts in pay any longer.”

A 3M spokesman refuted there is any link between the discussions with employees over pay increases and the plant’s business requirements for the working days between the Christmas and New Year holidays.

He said: “The production requirements for the December period have been reassessed since the original forecast back in mid-October – as is standard manufacturing practice – and it is no longer necessary for as many production lines to be operational during the Christmas and New Year period.”