Harrods has told employees that it will consider using agency staff to cover shifts during industrial action if a strike over pay goes ahead.
Ahead of an industrial action ballot by Unite, the luxury department store sent a letter to staff working in store services, engineering, maintenance and security that confirmed it was “no longer restricted from engaging temporary workers should any industrial action take place now or in the future”, after MPs approved changes to the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Buisiness Regulations last month.
The changes allow organisations to engage temporary agency staff to cover staff who go on strike, in order to minimise disruption.
Unite members at Harrods have rejected a 5% pay offer, and talks with the conciliation service Acas have been agreed.
A ballot for strike action opened last Thursday (11 August) and closes on 1 September.
Using agency workers during strikes
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It comes as no surprise that Harrods – known for catering to the supremely well-off – could be the first employer Unite has come across to threaten low paid staff with the recent government legislation designed to break strikes.
“Harrods’ attempts to use this new legislation to bully our members doesn’t change a thing. Unite is prepared for all eventualities and our members at Harrods will receive the full backing of the union in their fight for a fair pay rise.”
A Harrods spokesperson said that ensuring it was properly staffed at all times was vital for customer service and colleague safety.
“We already work with agency colleagues within Harrods to ensure that we have consistent and high quality service available to all customers, particularly in busy periods,” the spokesperson said.
“While we are able to engage temporary workers if industrial action occurs, this is certainly not our preferred course of action. That is why we are urging Unite to work with us to resolve this matter as swiftly as possible.”
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, said more employers have stated they would use agency staff to cover for those taking industrial action.
“Employers who threaten to use agency workers in this way need to understand that they only harden their workforce’s resolve and agency workers are unlikely to have the necessary skills and experience to provide effective cover in many instances. Using these regulations is no magic bullet,” he said.
“We maintain that the new regulations are unlawful, not least because of the government’s failure to conduct an adequate consultation with affected interests before introducing them.”
On the pay offer, Harrods noted that Unite members represent just a third of employees who are part of this particular collective bargaining agreement, and was disappointed it had to delay the backdated pay increase while negotiations continued.
The spokesperson said: “As a business, we undertake rigorous and regular benchmarking to ensure all colleagues are paid competitively. Our base pay rates are very competitive within the industry, and the pay rise we have offered will ensure this remains the case. Unfortunately, we are unable to award these payments to all impacted colleagues until pay negotiations have concluded with Unite.”