Asda Wal-Mart backtracks on workers' rights

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Asda

The UK's second largest retailer is today facing the possibility of
mass strikes at leading depots, after failing to honour agreements
with the GMB workers union to improve employee conditions.

Following months of turmoil involving more than 20 hours of talks between the two sides and a hefty court fine for Asda, negotiations have once again broken down between management and the GMB.

Union leader Paul Kenny said serious doubts were cast on Asda's intentions to honour an agreement drawn up during a House of Commons meeting on 11 April.

Further probing into the arrangement of the truce revealed Asda bosses did not intend to sway on employee bargaining rights, union access, bonuses and onsite safety, claims the union.

GMB members have now voted to begin a strike ballot process in 20 UK distribution centres, which will be overseen by the Electoral Reforms Balloting Service.

"GMB members in the depots want to secure collective bargaining at the distribution depots, the reinstatement of the 2005 bonus, and safe and healthy work rates. Asda Wal-Mart is not prepared to accept that pay and condition agreements need to be fair and fairly arrived at,"​ explained GMB national officer Jude Brimble.

"The unanimous vote by the shop stewards to reinstate the strike ballot demonstrates that the members will not settle for less."

However, Asda management has refuted the claim they have reneged on earlier agreements, saying the GMB is intent on a "1970s bargaining dispute."

Asda's Caroline Massingham, known as the people director, said: "At the heart of this is our commitment to ask our colleagues what type of union agreement they want. Ultimately, it's got to be their decision and we'll stand by that."

The turmoil comes as the American-owned supermarket chain faces a serious challenge to its number two spot in the retail league from Sainsbury's.

Recent TNS figures show Asda has held onto its position by a whisker, but looks certain to pass the mantle to Sainsbury's over the next quarter.

Internal issues over working conditions, coupled with the bad press such disputes bring, may damage the company's reputation and affect its market place.

Last year Asda's treatment of workers was widely condemned by unions and charities claiming the firm had drawn up a "chip away strategy" to reduce costs and increase productivity.

The latest union decision to ballot on a universal walk-out follows months of animosity between Asda and its workers, which lead to supermarket being fined £850,000 at a court in Newcastle in February.

The employment tribunal found the chain guilty of promising 340 distribution staff a 10 per cent pay rise to give up the collective bargaining right negotiated by their union - an act which is illegal under 1992 labour relations law.

The court ordered Asda to pay £2,500 to each employee at the County Durham depot.

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