Asda HR chief slams cynical union tactics

The people director at Asda has launched a stinging attack on the GMB union for waging a “cynical and deliberate” campaign against the supermarket chain.

The union said it plans to ballot its members at Asda depots over worsening industrial relations. It is also holding a consultative ballot of members in stores over the non-payment of bonuses.

The GMB has warned the supermarket chain that it could call for consumers to boycott its stores.

But David Smith, Asda’s people director, told Personnel Today that the GMB’s campaign was about a union with declining membership “desperately seeking to gain funds”.

“[The GMB] has openly said to us that Asda is a large organisation and therefore a target for it to increase its union dues,” he said. “That is the backdrop to this situation.”

Smith denied Asda was attempting to union-bust and defended the company’s HR practices, despite the ongoing dispute with the GMB and three tribunal losses in the past few weeks.

“Every now and then a company genuinely makes a mistake. I don’t think it’s about HR practices changing, it’s the way it’s been coloured,” he said.

“There is a very well-oiled publicity machine cynically and deliberately targeting the business,” he added.

Smith also said US retail giant Wal-Mart – Asda’s notoriously anti-union parent company – had “remarkably little” influence over day-to-day events.
“Everyone seems to think that Wal-Mart pulls the strings,” Smith said. “But its businesses are independently run by the local people.”

Smith insisted that the GMB’s campaign would ultimately be self-defeating.

“In a retail business I don’t think being aggressive towards the employer is actually going to make people feel more positive about the union,” he said.

Paul Kenny, acting general secretary at the GMB, rejected Smith’s claim that the union was running a cynical campaign. “The well-oiled publicity machine was run by Tim Allan, ex-Downing Street spin doctor, who was paid by Asda to persuade GMB members to give up collective bargaining .

“The GMB is not prepared to tolerate this union-busting. Agreements on pay and conditions need to be fair and the way the agreements are arrived at needs to be fair. Neither condition applies in Asda Wal-Mart,” he said.


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