It all stems from a proposed move which would see workers at 1,400 Sainsbury’s supermarkets across the UK offered a pay rise to £9.20 per hour. On the surface, this sounds like it would be a welcome move. However, Unite have pointed out that a number of ‘strings’ added to the contract will in fact erode the pay bonus. These include clauses such as removing the premium pay rates offered for working on Sundays.
Those who refused to sign the contract before the 23rd September 2018 were told that they were going to be back in the food recruitment process, looking for new jobs. So far no one has been dismissed as a result, thanks to a ‘cooling off period’, but the union says that the threat is still lingering.
Joe Clarke is Unite’s National Officer for the Food Industry. He said that many of the employees affected by the contracts will face a reduction in their terms and conditions, including some of the longest-serving employees who were effectively being punished for their longevity.
“We have strongly argued in negotiations in recent months that those workers adversely affected by the new contract, who do not wish to accept it, can stay on their existing terms without the draconian threat of the sack,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we have to give further consideration to the legal process. We again appeal to Sainsbury's to meaningfully engage with us to resolve our outstanding concerns without the need for legal action.”
Prompt to action
It’s clear that the latest statement from Unite is intended to provoke a decision from Sainsbury’s, which has not made any response from their last collective grievance meeting, held on the 13th September. The union has also undertaken talks with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance that Sainsbury’s is signed up to.
“However, Sainsbury’s current stance contravenes section 2 of the ETI code on non-adherence which relates to not granting Unite collective bargaining rights,” said Clarke.
Unite had recently sent out a survey amongst its members, many of whom are employed in food jobs, with questions about equal pay and possible age discrimination in terms of the new contract. They clearly feel that there are huge concerns to be answered here.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s issued their own statement in response. A spokesperson said: “While the vast majority of colleagues are receiving a pay increase, we do appreciate that a small minority of colleagues will be less well off in comparative terms. That’s why we have protections in place to ensure that these colleagues will receive top up payments for an 18 month period – and this will be followed by a further pay review. We do not believe there is any merit to these claims and will rigorously defend our position.”
All of this is going on at the same time as continued discussions over the merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s, which could well be taking the focus off the job deliberations. Either way, it seems that changes are coming for many employees at Sainsbury’s stores, whether they will be happy with them or not. It remains to be seen what kind of agreement can be reached that leaves all parties happy.