Usdaw conference

Time to fight the attacks on pay and working conditions

An Usdaw member

From workfare to Sunday trading hours, to shop closures and redundancies, issues affecting the retail sector have featured prominently in the national news over the last few months. From 22-25 April, retail workers’ union Usdaw will meet in Blackpool at the union’s Annual Delegate Meeting to discuss these and other issues.

The key discussions will be around the ever increasing attacks on the conditions of retail workers. There is the now widespread use of flexi-hours contracts which only contract workers to a small number of guaranteed hours from which they qualify for holiday pay, sickness pay and other benefits. They are forced to beg for extra hours to make ends meet. Yet this is now being undermined by the use of workfare, where job seekers are required to work for free for several weeks for major retail companies.

Usdaw has correctly opposed such schemes and demanded the rate for the job. But it has failed to link up with the hundreds and thousands of young people that have taken to the streets in protest, many of whom could be future retail workers.

The recent decision by the Low Pay Commission (LPC), which Usdaw general secretary John Hannett sits on, to freeze the minimum wage for those under 21 is an absolute disgrace. Usdaw should be mounting a serious campaign against this.

Following Usdaw’s success in abolishing youth rates in Morrisons, Tesco and the Co-op we should be pushing for the elimination of such rates altogether. The justification of the LPC for its measures, that it would make younger workers more competitive, will mean older workers being undercut by such rates. The real problem is the lack of jobs for young people with over one million on the scrapheap of the dole.

The recent budget saw the introduction of a proposal to remove Sunday trading restrictions for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics. Usdaw reps and members are overwhelmingly opposed to any changes on several grounds, including the difficulties in using public transport to get to work, as well as being the only day you are guaranteed to have the evening free. A major campaign must be mounted to resist this and any other attacks.

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Usdaw – a fighting programme

New pamphlet for Usdaw members. £2.50 including postage and packing, from the Socialist Party, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. Or ring 020 8988 8777