Talks with Sainsbury’s over ‘sign or be sacked’ contract row

Unite, the country’s largest union, is due to hold talks with Sainsbury’s bosses on Wednesday (8 August) over a collective grievance by the union’s members in the long-running ‘sign or be sacked’ contracts row affecting 123,000 workers.

Unite is taking legal steps to protect its 11,000 members who have been told by Sainsbury’s they have to sign the new contracts by 23 September – or face the sack.

Unite said the dispute stems from the firm’s proposal to increase pay to £9.20 an hour for workers at Sainsbury’s 1,400 stores from September, which would be eroded by ‘strings’ such as removing premium pay for Sunday working. The normal current rate is £8.00 an hour.

Unite has also lodged a protective award with an employment tribunal in relation to the consultation process.

Unite has contacted its members with a questionnaire about equal pay and possible age discrimination with the new contract. The questionnaire should be completed by 31 August.

Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said: “This is an issue of fairness which puts Sainsbury’s with its so-called progressive employment practices under the media spotlight.

“We accept that the new contracts may be an improvement for a large number of Sainsbury's employees; however, many of the longest serving and older staff may be worse off – that’s the position we are fighting to avoid.

“Many of our members have lodged individual grievances about their pay and conditions under the new contract which have now been rolled into a collective grievance and will be the subject of Wednesday’s talks.

“Sainsbury’s has taken a much harder line than its retail rival Asda which has applied its new contract so individuals, who do not wish to sign it, can stay on their existing terms without the draconian threat of the sack.

“Sainsbury's is looking to impose this ‘sack or sign’ contract which, in essence, is robbing ‘Peter to pay Paul’.

“This is because it is a self-financing pay deal, with the loss of overtime, Sunday premium pay and breaks, as well as the unethical removal of medical severance for sick workers. Also, there will be no further increase in salary until 2020.

“The headline figure of £9.20 per hour looks attractive, but, like the tip of an iceberg, there are many other issues lurking below the surface.

“It should also be noted that Sainsbury’s boasts it is signed up to the The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). However, its current stance contravenes section 2 of the ETI code on non-adherence which relates to not granting Unite collective bargaining rights.

“Sainsbury’s has manufactured a crisis of its own making. Even at this eleventh hour, we are asking Sainsbury’s to draw back and avoid unnecessary confrontation, which is the last thing it should want in these very competitive times for the UK’s supermarkets.”