Socialist Worker

Tesco: This sick scheme must be defeated

Issue No. 1902

TESCO, THE company that makes £63,900 profit every minute, wants to axe sick pay for its workers-and a trade union is helping them do it. The supermarket chain is trying out a scheme where workers do not get any sick pay until they are four days in a row.

Some staff will be "rewarded" with extra holidays for having few absences, others will be given vouchers for an "exemplary" sick record. It will put pressure on workers to come in when they are too ill to work because they cannot afford to stay at home. The average wage of a supermarket worker is just £184.70 a week before tax.

Some 82 percent of supermarket checkout workers are women. Tesco's attack will hit them as women workers often end up taking days off when their children are ill. Tesco is Britain's biggest private sector employer. The CBI bosses' organisation constantly moans that staff absence hits companies' profits.

Yet employers are eager to increase workers' hours and workloads, which makes workers more likely to become ill. Workers in Britain work the longest hours in Europe. Yet they take an average of just eight days a year off sick. Over half of these are absences of two days or less.

Even this is too much for employers like Tesco. Already Asda, which is owned by the US Wal-Mart empire, only gives workers sick pay from the fourth day they are off sick.

New Labour demands "increased productivity" and cheers on companies who crack down on "sickies". So Tesco boss Terry Leahy (salary £2,970,000 a year) can feel he is on safe ground launching his onslaught against some of the lowest paid workers in Britain.

Leahy is on four government task forces and got his knighthood from Blair two years ago. It is shocking that Usdaw, the union for supermarket workers, is supporting the piloting of Tesco's new sick pay regime.

The union is headed by John Hannett, a member of Labour's National Executive Committee. Usdaw signed a "partnership" deal with Tesco in 1998, which boosted the union's membership in stores. But the deal ended the traditional role of shop stewards and established weaker staff forums.

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Sat 22 May 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1902
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