Asda staff have taken part a rally outside the retailer’s headquarters in Leeds in protest over contract changes that will see their base pay increased, but require them to work more flexible hours.
The company wants to bring all retail staff onto its “contract 6”, which will increase base pay from £8.84 to £9 per hour plus any location premiums. However, unpaid breaks and the requirement to work on bank holidays will be introduced.
Asda said the new contract would provide a pay increase for more than 100,000 staff, but the GMB union, which organised the rally, said 93% of its members within Asda opposed the contract.
GMB regional organiser Keith Dixon said: “GMB feel the company’s contract would result in a devastating impact upon the work-life balance, security and income for our GMB members within Asda.
“Asda need to understand the value of their dedicated workforce who have for many years grown Asda to be a multi-billion pound profitable business.
“We have had reports of managers using bullying and threatening behaviour against members by offering false promises, going uninvited to the home of members who are suffering terminal illnesses and even threatening to withhold holidays and sick pay if they do not agree to sign the new contract.”
An Asda spokesperson said bringing all retail staff onto the same contract – currently there are six different contracts in place – would ensure consistency and fairness and will allow it to have the “right colleagues in the right place at the right time”.
Those who did not agree to the Asda contract changes will be issued with a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice to leave the company.
The spokesperson said: “The retail sector is undergoing significant change and it is important that we are able to keep pace with these changes. The overwhelming majority of our colleagues have signed onto the new contracts and while we appreciate that some of our colleagues find the changes more unsettling, we do not want any of them to leave.
“We have been clear that we understand colleagues have commitments outside of work and will not be asking them to constantly move the time they work, their days or departments. Any changes will be with at least four weeks’ notice.
“This contract is about increasing the take-home pay of more than 100,000 retail colleagues, through an investment of more than £80m, and ensuring that everyone doing the same job is on the same terms and conditions.”
Philip Richardson, head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors, said Asda has the right to ask staff to work on bank holidays and staff should agree to be flexible if they accept a higher salary. Paid breaks are not a legal requirement.
“Providing Asda comply with the minimum requirements for breaks, which for most staff is to provide an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes for every six hours worked, there is no requirement for those breaks to be paid, as this is dependent on what the contract states. If staff agree revised terms in return for a higher wage, that is ultimately their choice,” he said.
“On the face of it, Asda’s argument holds weight given the nature of the retail sector. There’s clearly a requirement to cover bank holidays and staff will be compensated by way of a higher salary.
“However, many staff feel that this is being forced upon them and it’s unclear the extent to which this request is truly voluntary.”