Protest At Marks & Spencer Swindon Store Against “Modern Day Slavery” At M&S Swindon Distribution Centre
Low pay and precarious employment means workers on these contracts feel like second class citizens says GMB.
GMB members are demonstrating outside Marks & Spencer store in Swindon in protest against modern day slavery at the M&S distribution centre on Wednesday 11th February at 11:00 am. This date coincides with the 47th anniversary of the start of an industrial dispute organised by Martin Luther King in Memphis Tennessee USA. See Notes to Editors for details.
Around 100 GMB members will protest outside Marks and Spencer:
AT 11:00 AM ON
11TH FEBRUARY 2015
They will be holding two 3 metre wide banners reading “Marks and Spencer, ethical trading starts at home” and “Marks and Spencer: We are not slaves!” They will also be holding A2 placards reading “I am a man!” and “I am a woman!”, facsimiles of those used by strikers during the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.
GMB members working at a Marks & Spencer distribution centre in Swindon are involved in a long running dispute over similar issues. Although the Distribution Centre is owned and 100% dedicated to M&S, they contract DHL (previously Wincanton) to run the Distribution centre, which use a recruitment agency, 24-7 Recruitment to provide agency workers, who then are given employment contracts with yet another company, Tempay Ltd. Tempay shares the same registered business address as 24-7.
Workers for Tempay Ltd have 7 hour per week contracts, but are given rotas for 37 hours. If they are not available for every day of rota they are disciplined for absenteeism, but employer can cancel work days with no notice, and even send them home as soon as they arrive for work. A non-reciprocal arrangement reminiscent of bonded labour. One GMB Shop Steward, Domingos Dias, has been issued a written warning for absenteeism, even though he had worked more than his contracted hours during the relevant period.
GMB deplores the fact that offering permanent contracts for the nominal 7 hours allows employers to evade and frustrate the provisions of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) , which came into force in 2011, that should guarantee equal pay after 12 weeks. This abuse is popularly called the “Swedish Derogation”. Tempay workers receive just £6.50 per hour, while people doing exactly the same work for DHL earn up to £2 per hour more.
Many of the Tempay staff have worked at the same Marks and Spencer site for several years. Over 75% of non-managerial staff are agency workers, but agency workers are not used to deal with fluctuating work volumes, but to lower staffing costs of effectively permanent employees. Such long permanent assignments are contrary to the intention of the Swedish derogation, and indicate clearly that this is an avoidance tactic.
Agency staff are in the position of needing to be available for work, so they cannot take employment elsewhere, but are not guaranteed an more than 7 hours per week.
Staff, including pregnant women, have turned up to work at 6:00am on a Sunday for a shift they had been required to attend by the rota, having needed a taxi to get to the site, to be immediately sent home without pay as they are not required, meaning they actually lose money.
Staff working for the agency are issued inferior PPE compared to staff working for DHL. Staff working for the agency are not issued with warm clothes for outside work in winter compared to staff working for DHL who are issued with warm clothing.
The precarious nature of their employment has made staff (before GMB was involved) afraid to assert their rights, and they have suffered bullying and arbitrary management.
At the South Marston site, some 90% of 800 non-managerial staff (agency and hirer) are non-white, but of 82 managers, only 4 are non-white. Promotions are based upon a system of patronage and favouritism.
Carole Vallelly GMB Organiser said, “It is astounding that nearly 50 years after the death of Martin Luther King, we are encountering the same issues of low paid workers being exploited in a manner akin to modern day slavery.
Household name companies, including Marks and Spencer, use Employment Agencies in their supply chain to push wage costs down, and inhibit staff from asserting employment rights. The culture of abusing agency worker status has led to employers treating their staff as commodities, breaking the moral contract that hard work should be rewarded.
Low pay and precarious employment means workers on these contracts feel like second class citizens, unable to get a mortgage or be granted hire purchase or loans, and unable to even feel secure that they can pay the rent or feed their families.”
Contact: Carole Vallelly GMB Organizer on 07912 181476 or Andrew Newman GMB Branch Secretary on 07540 859227 or GMB Press Office on 07974 251823 or 07921 289880.
Notes to Editors:
The Memphis Sanitation Strike began on 11th February 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The strike received inspirational support from civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and he was assassinated in Memphis on 4th April 1968, while actively supporting the strikers.
The issues that led the Memphis workers to strike included the management practices of sending staff home as soon as they started their shift with no pay, poverty wages, lack of safety equipment, and climate of fear where workers were afraid to complain, as they might get sacked or lose shifts. The strikers adopted the slogan “I am a man!”, to emphasize that they demanded respect at work.