Warehouse employees for Clarks have accused the 200-year-old shoemaker of betraying its philanthropic roots by threatening them with the sack in the event that they don’t settle for vital pay cuts.
Greater than 100 employees in Clarks’ most important distribution centre in Road, Somerset, the place the model was based by two Quaker brothers within the nineteenth century, declare the agency is searching for to chop their wages by virtually 15% from the typical of £11.16 an hour to £9.50 an hour by utilizing controversial hearth and rehire techniques.
The employees, who’ve been on strike for 2 weeks, have been informed they need to signal new contracts or danger shedding their jobs with out redundancy pay. In addition they face cuts to sick pay and lowered redundancy packages in addition to the scrapping of paid breaks.
Clarks – which was taken over by a Hong Kong-based non-public fairness agency, LionRock Capital, in March – closed its final UK shoemaking plant in 2006. However the firm, through which the Clarks household now maintain a minority stake, headquarters and most important distribution centre are nonetheless in Road.
Trevor Stephens, who has labored on the warehouse for 17 years, stated the agency’s actions had been particularly stunning given its proud historical past within the city. “The Clark brothers had been forward of their time in taking care of their employees. They constructed homes, faculties and even a swimming pool right here in Road,” he stated. “However [Clarks] are bullying us into accepting decrease wages. It’s destroying lives. It destroying households.”
Many employees concern they won’t be able to maintain up with their lease or mortgage funds if their pay is lower. Stephens, 45, stated he wouldn’t be capable of afford his flat if the brand new contracts are imposed. “I want a two-bedroom place for my children to return to go to. They received’t be capable of keep over if I haven’t obtained the house,” he stated. “There’s a actual chance I is likely to be shedding my job, my home, and my children.”
The risk has overwhelmed some employees. Francis Foley collapsed the week after they had been informed in regards to the new contracts. “I hadn’t had a day’s sick depart in 34 years till I collapsed and cracked my head open at work. I’ve been signed off for 5 weeks with work-related stress,” he stated. “All of it obtained an excessive amount of with me and I’m nonetheless struggling now.”
Many within the city seem like turning in opposition to Clarks.
The employees have been inundated with messages of solidarity, with postal employees refusing to cross their picket line and meals donations arriving each day. “Clarks has betrayed the city. They’ve betrayed individuals who have labored for them for years,” stated Foley, 54, whose father and brother each labored for the agency. “Individuals are disgusted with what they’re doing to us. Individuals are dropping sweets and drinks off. Automobiles are honking their assist on a regular basis.”
Some newer warehouse employees are being paid lower than long-standing employees, he stated: “They need to carry their pay as much as ours.”
Final week delegations of council employees, firefighters and practice drivers joined the picket strains. Dave Chapple, secretary of Mendip Trades Council, stated: “Is that this actually the longer term for work on this nation: no extra collective bargaining negotiations, simply industrial dictatorship?”
In a video, native Conservative MP James Heappey stated strike motion was “not the best way ahead”. Heappey stated he had spoken to Stephens at his weekly surgical procedure in July and had supplied to take up particular person circumstances with Clarks.
The strike comes as concern grows about employers’ use of fireside and rehire. At the very least 28 companies, together with British Gasoline and British Airways, have been accused because the begin of the pandemic of threatening to sack employees who don’t settle for new contractsA ballot for the TUC this yr discovered one in ten 10 employees – three million individuals – had skilled the tactic.
Boris Johnson has known as the follow “unacceptable”, however ministers have additionally insisted that companies in monetary issue will need to have the pliability to supply new phrases and circumstances.
A personal member’s invoice drawn-up by Labour MP Barry Gardiner, which can drive employers to barter hearth and rehire type restructures at a a lot earlier stage and provides unions the correct to take speedy strike motion if managers don’t have interaction in talks, has gathered the assist of greater than 200 MPs from throughout the Home of Commons.
Clarks stated the pandemic had led to turnover dropping by 44% and file losses of £180m final yr. “Clarks didn’t undertake this evenly, however the proposals are a part of a company-wide plan to safe future viability, with a view to defending over 4,000 jobs within the UK,” it stated. It added that terminating contracts on present phrases and provide re-engagement on new phrases can be “the final resort”. It stated the modifications would imply greater than half of the employees on the distribution centre would get a pay rise to £9.50 an hour. It stated affected employees can be shielded from any pay discount till 2023 by top-up funds.