Bosses at the high street giant Argos have delivered an outrageous ultimatum to workers – let us slash your terms and conditions, or we will slash your jobs and pay.
The challenge has provoked a furious response.
“Management wants revenge for our strikes last year,” a senior Unite union rep told Socialist Worker.
“We struck solidly, won better pay and defeated an attack on our conditions. Now the company is demanding a series of measures that could divide the workforce.”
Argos wants to introduce differential rates of pay for jobs within its supply chain.
This could lead to pickers in the warehouse being lower paid than those who load lorries using forklifts.
“That would give management the power of favouritism,” says the steward. “They could decide who will get the better jobs on the basis of who sucks-up the most.
“It has implications for equality too. A lot of pickers are women. If this were implemented, they would be earning less money than those doing other jobs.
“It’s also bad for safety. Currently, if someone feels unwell and that they should not be driving a forklift they can do another job without losing money.
“They might not be able to do that if these changes go through.”
Bosses also want a host of “modernising” changes – including flexibility on the length of the working day, on what job you do, on what depot you work from, and on when you can take your holidays.
“Union reps at the meeting where this was announced were shocked at the use of blackmail,” says the steward.
“One of them asked our director of human resources, ‘Do you think we’re a bunch a peasants and you are a dictator with a gun to our heads?’”
Similar anger has been seen in union meetings at Argos’s depots.
“When I told the meeting at our place what was going on people were livid,” reports the steward.
“Management say that our staffing levels are 20 percent over capacity. That’s rubbish.
“This is supposed to be the quietest time of year and we’ve still got loads of temporary workers in and we’re doing loads of overtime.”
“But there is a mixture of shock and fear here.
“Every newspaper says that jobs are going, and that we should accept cuts if we want to hold on to ours in a recession.
“That makes people worry about the future.
“What these reports don’t say is that Argos is projecting profits of around £320 million this year. And they don’t tell you about the bosses’ pay and bonuses.”
Argos plans to implement its changes by April. Union reps hope that the spirit of last year’s strikes can be revived to defeat this latest challenge.
“Management was taken aback by our strength last year,” says the steward. “I hope that we’ve got a few more surprises for them in the future.”