Ryan Aldred, secretary, Plymouth and district general branch, Usdaw shopworkers’ union
Workers organised with the GMB union protested outside more than 75 Asda stores across the UK on Thursday 3 October. Bosses have said they will fire anyone who doesn’t sign up to ‘Contract 6’ by 2 November.
This contract demands more flexibility from Asda workers while stripping them of overtime pay, slashing night shift pay, and cutting holiday entitlement and paid breaks. In short – work at the bosses’ whim and get less for it.
In a particularly callous move, bosses at Asda have begun issuing leaflets with advice on how to find a new job to staff who have yet to sign up to these controversial contracts.
Some of these workers have as many as 35-40 years service with Asda and find these leaflets utterly galling. They’re forced to choose between worse conditions or be out of a job before Christmas.
While slashing 5,000 jobs, Asda have reported profits rocketing by £92 million to almost £805 million according to the GMB. Clearly, cutting terms and conditions is a naked attempt to line the pockets of the shareholders by picking the pockets of workers.
Sarah Green, a rep protesting on Thursday said “they put us in roles we’re not trained in. They’ve cut us back to a skeleton crew, yet they still expect us to get everything done. Shelves often go empty because staff don’t have time to restock them. Customers get angry and take out their frustrations on us which just adds to the stress of it all. A number of staff, including myself, have been off sick with stress.”
Piling on the pressure, Asda bosses have even said staff will not be paid for any sick leave until they sign up to the new contracts.
As one protesting worker remarked: “They can find money to put on extra security staff today while we’re protesting, but they can’t find money for workers who have been with the company for years and years.”
They can also find £12 million to pay company directors, up 22% from £9.4 million last year. How did those poor directors make it through last year!
The GMB have called for another protest outside Asda’s head office in Leeds on 16 October. But workers are looking for the union to take a more decisive lead. Many are willing the union to ballot for strike action.
The bosses have already taken the gloves off. The union needs to do the same if it’s to snatch a victory from what could otherwise go down as a painful defeat for workers.
If money is the only thing these bosses understand, what better way to send them a message than by shutting down their stores with a serious programme of sustained strike action.