Socialist Worker

Tesco’s new policy that punishes the sick

A TESCO warehouse worker told Socialist Worker what it’s like to work for Britain’s biggest supermarket chain:

Issue No. 1922

Although the treatment of staff in the warehouse is pretty bad, the general feeling is that we have it a lot easier than the shop floor staff.

Tesco are introducing a new sickness policy. This is supposedly voluntarily, although it is being imposed on all new members of staff.

Staff will not get paid for the first three days of their time off.

There is no leeway with this—no matter how serious the reason you have had to take time off, you will lose three days pay.

With the old warehouse contracts you were not paid for the first day taken.

The sick day structure works as follows:

If you are away from work on two separate occasions in a six-month period, you are put on stage one of the procedure. You are kept on stage one for six months.

If during that six-month period you take time off on two occasions you are put on a stage two. Stage two lasts for six months.

If during this six months you take time off on two occasions you are placed on a stage three. Stage three lasts for three months.

If you take time off on one occasion during this period you will be dismissed.

One man who works in the same warehouse as me has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Because he went to management and informed them of the situation they placed him on the sickness procedure.

This means that every time he has to take a day off, or even an afternoon off for a check-up, it counts against him.

It is quite feasible that this man will lose his job, in what the management calls a contractual dismissal, in order to get well. Of course, he is also losing money every time he takes time off.

We work shifts of six days on and one day off for six weeks, and then nine days off.

Shifts are 6am-2pm and 2pm-10pm. The staff get one 30-minute unpaid lunch break in an eight-hour shift.

In the warehouse where I work management is fairly flexible on tea and toilet breaks as long as long as it doesn’t interfere with the amount of work done.

But most warehouses enforce a set break before and after lunch.

There is little or no say over holiday. You take your nine days off at the end of your six-week rota. Any flexibility is completely down to management.

Bank holidays are incorporated into the days you have off according to the above plan, and can’t be taken on the actual bank holiday unless your nine days happen to coincide with it. This includes Christmas.

This is partly the reason that around 30 percent of staff take sick leave around this time

There is a general feeling of hatred towards the company. They see that the company directors and shareholders are making huge amounts of money out of them.

Pay discussions for staff take place a few weeks after the yearly announcements of the directors’ large bonuses, and yet we are told there is no growth in the marketplace and so pay increases can only be around 3 percent.

The main union for Tesco workers is Usdaw, who the workers have very little faith in. The Tesco/Usdaw Partnership Agreement means that the union works very closely with Tesco management.

Two years ago my warehouse rejected our pay offer. Usdaw would not allow the members to hold a ballot on strike action.

It instead held an indicative ballot. It allowed their members to ballot on whether they thought strike action was a good idea or not, but they would not take action if the majority voted to strike.

It said that there had been too low a turnout in the pay rejection vote for it to hold sway for the entire union.

However, when the turnout for the fake ballot was even lower, the no strike action result was acceptable as a reflection of the general mood.

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Article information

Sat 9 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1922
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