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ASDA has lost the “respect and support” of its staff, trade unionists warned today as hundreds of workers marched through central Leeds in protest at “punitive” contract changes.
About 1,500 GMB union members employed by the supermarket giant marched past the company’s headquarters on Wednesday to oppose the imposition of “contract VI.”
The contract is deeply unpopular among Asda workers as it denies them right to paid breaks and no longer guarantees that some staff do not have to work at weekends.
This has caused particular distress for people with care duties, who say that they are being asked to choose whether to keep their job or properly look after vulnerable family members.
The GMB estimates that about 93 per cent of members oppose the new contract, but Asda bosses have threatened that any workers who do not sign the contract by November 2 will be automatically sacked.
GMB Wales and South West young members’ regional chairman Dean Ismay told the Star: “How Asda are treating its colleagues is disgraceful and disrespectful.
“Many of them have given years of service to this business to ensure it’s profitable and now we are having our hard-earned rights taken away, all in the name of the ‘needs of business.’
“They’re crippling us with retail poverty pay and with retail poverty conditions.
“We were once proud to wear that uniform, but not any more. The business that won awards for how it treated us is long gone.”
Asda was bought by notoriously anti-union US retail giant Walmart in 1999.
A young employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Star that management is already “turning up the heat” on workers refusing to sign the contract, saying: “There is blatant trade-union discrimination going on in every Asda up and down the country.
“I’ve seen with my own eyes how workers are being threatened by their managers, being asked to show their union cards, being pressured when they’re tired or in vulnerable positions into signing the contracts, and everyone has heard horror stories from other stores too.
“It can’t go on, and we wouldn’t be taking the problem seriously if we didn’t decide to tackle it head on.”
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, told the rally: “Isn’t it wrong that people who create the profits for Asda have to come to Leeds in the pouring rain to ask that the company that they made a success of for all these years listens to them?
“You shouldn’t have to be here today. It’s wrong that you are treated with such disrespect. You make Asda such a success and they do not listen to you.”
Addressing the crowd, GMB general secretary Tim Roache offered his solidarity to the workers in their fight.
He pointed out that the Waltons, who own Walmart, are the richest family in the world, with an accumulated fortune of about £158 billion.
He said: “When they tell us times are tough, yeah! They are tough for workers, but not for the people at the top.
“They say it is their sector’s norm to impose contracts on their workers.
“But why is there not a way for Asda to show that you can stand above so-called industry standards and show an example to other employers?”
He said: “They tell us that we have to be grateful for £9 an hour. But anywhere the GMB is organising in this sector which would impose these punitive, restrictive contracts — we would oppose them and fight them anywhere.”
GMB regional organiser Keith Dixon said: “It is time that Asda realises that they have lost the respect and support of their workforce and agrees to meet with GMB to negotiate better terms on behalf of the members.”
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