Socialist Worker

Asda workers speak out - bullying and threats add to anger over new contract

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2668

Up to 1,000 Asda workers and their supporters marched in Leeds last week. Local Labour MP Richard Burgon joined the march

Up to 1,000 Asda workers and their supporters marched in Leeds last week. Local Labour MP Richard Burgon joined the march (Pic: @GMB_union/Twitter)


Asda workers are furious at supermarket bosses’ plans to impose a punitive contract that would rip up their terms and conditions.

The Contract 6 option would introduce unpaid breaks and force people to work on Sundays and bank holidays.

Bosses claim that “the overwhelming majority of our colleagues have signed onto the new contracts” because it increases take home pay.

But one GMB union rep from Tyneside in the North East of England told Socialist Worker that bosses have pressured workers to sign up.

And documents seen by Socialist Worker show that bosses have threatened workers with the sack if they don’t agree to the new contract by 2 November.

The rep said, “When it started off as a voluntary contract only 13 percent signed up to it. Many were section leaders or part of the leadership scheme on the path to becoming a manager.

“A lot more people signed when Asda brought in the ‘sign or dismiss’ options.”

The rep, who said he has been given 13 weeks to sign the contract, described the tactics bosses have used.

“At first management had one-on-one meetings where they would try to sell it to you,” he explained.

“They would try to put pressure on as well, saying the quicker you sign the better hours we can give you. There have been occasions of managers knocking on doors when people are ill to get them to sign.”

Refused

One letter, sent to another worker after a meeting with management, shows workers were put on a notice period if they refused to sign. It says, “You have confirmed you are not willing to move to the new terms and conditions of employment voluntarily.

“I confirm that I was issuing 12 weeks’ notice to terminate your employment on your existing terms and conditions from 11 August 2019.”

The letter included another copy of Contract 6, threatening

sacking if the worker didn’t sign in the 12 week notice period. It threatens, “If you choose not to accept the new contract, your employment will end on 2 November 2019.

“Finally, I informed you that you do not have the right to appeal against my decision.”

This sort of treatment by bosses has fuelled workers’ anger.

Up to 1,000 workers and their supporters marched on the supermarket’s headquarters in Leeds on Wednesday of last week.

GMB members came from regions across Britain, including Wales and Scotland. Marchers chanted, “No ifs, no buts, no Asda cuts,” and, “Shame on you,” as they made their way down Neville Street.

Some 93 percent of GMB members rejected the contract in a recent consultative ballot.

The Tyneside rep said members wanted to strike—and that they would receive solidarity. “I spoke to lorry drivers from Asda distribution depots,” he said. “They said that if one person is outside a store, they will not cross the picket line.”

The GMB leadership should hold a national ballot for strikes to stop bosses imposing the new contract.


Strikes could sting the bosses

Many Asda workers are frustrated with the GMB union leadership for being “too slow” in taking on the supermarket’s plans.

The Tyneside rep said, “The GMB have dragged their feet since the beginning.

“When the proposals were rejected, the national committee of Asda reps put very weak counter-proposals to management.

“They gave Asda 14 days to get back to them.

“I demanded immediately to go back to Asda headquarters.

“That’s when they should have gone for action.”

The rep said that fewer workers would have signed up to the contract if “they felt that they had had the support”.

“Up until then, the union had been too quiet,” he said. “As a result of that many colleagues signed the contract.

“That’s without a doubt.”


Matalan workers walk out in Merseyside

Hundreds of Matalan distribution workers in Merseyside struck for higher pay this week.

Over 500 workers, GMB union members, walked out of the high street giant’s hub in Knowsley for 24 hours from 2pm on Monday.

They are fighting a “frankly insulting” pay offer of 1.5 percent—a real terms pay cut.

Claire Hargreaves, a GMB union rep, explained that bosses had made the “offer for eight months with no back pay” for the rest of the year.

“It’s 22p above the minimum wage,” she said. “Our members are struggling.

“They live on the breadline and it’s not acceptable.”

GMB organiser Stephen Boden said, “This industrial action is a result of Matalan management making a frankly insulting pay offer.

“How can they expect hard working staff to accept a real terms pay cut?”

Treatment

Anger has been fuelled by management’s treatment of workers as well as low pay.

Members of other branches of the GMB, the Labour Party, Momentum and Knowsley trades council brought solidarity to the picket line.

The Knowsley hub is a key part of Matalan’s distribution network for internet and high street orders across the North West of England.

The retailer has recently increased the number of workers by 200 in order to meet a growing number of online orders.

Distribution workers have the power to cause disruption across the supply chain and bring bosses to heel.

The GMB said that further 24-hour strikes are planned in the coming weeks, including on Sunday, after last minute talks failed on Monday.


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