Usdaw: Prepare for action to resist Morrisons management attacks

A former Morrisons Usdaw rep

The latest in a series of attacks by Morrisons’ private equity owners has been a cut in the pension contributions of workers. Currently, Morrisons workers pay 3% of their salary in pension contributions, while the company puts in 5%. This is set to be reversed over a series of stages so that workers will pay 5% and the company 3%. This is nothing short of an attack on the pay of Morrisons workers and has correctly met with opposition from their trade union Usdaw, which was not consulted by the company on these changes.

In response, Morrisons reps have reported that Usdaw has asked them to get the membership ready for a potential strike ballot. Given the direction the company has gone since the private equity takeover, this is a welcome step. Workers have welcomed that Usdaw is stepping up to challenge these attacks.

Our understanding is that the plans are in limbo pending the outcome of the annual pay negotiations. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that Morrisons may make a sufficient pay offer, giving workers a substantial pay rise to catch up with the increased cost of living and to cover the increased pension contributions being imposed. If the company fails to do this, then it should be rejected.

If the offer is inadequate, it is important that Usdaw’s negotiating team recommends a clear rejection. Usdaw failed to reject the last two pay offers. Despite our criticisms of the mandatory arbitration clauses over pay in Usdaw’s recognition agreement with Morrisons, we believe that we should not allow the lack of a rejection recommendation to be used by arbitration service Acas to justify siding with management for a third time.

Indeed, the workplace ballot of the membership over an offer could be an important gauge of the preparedness of the membership to take action and to identify where additional resources may need to be put in to win a statutory industrial action ballot. Meetings of Usdaw members on a local or regional basis, or even a national online meeting for all Morrisons Usdaw members, would be other key ways to prepare.

But preparation is needed externally as well as internally. The full resources of the union should be mobilised behind Morrisons members. This means rallying all Usdaw members behind the workers and appealing for other TUC affiliates to lend their support too. This could include public rallies of support, as GMB workers did in Asda several years ago when threatened by fire and rehire, marching on the company’s head office in Leeds.

While workers in the distribution wings of supermarkets in warehouses and road transport have taken action in recent years, this year has already seen the first strike action by retail workers in a long time as Asda workers organised by GMB have taken action. But for Morrisons workers to take strike action on a national scale will be something the retail sector has not seen in decades. This is why there is so much potentially at stake in this situation where victory or defeat could have important ramifications for the position of all retail workers in years to come.