Office workers employed by Argos, which is now owned by Sainsbury’s, have been given the stark choice of accepting swingeing cuts to their pay and conditions or losing their jobs, under the company’s fire and rehire plans.
Over 700 long-term Argos staff, spread across the company, are affected by the fire and rehire plans. The workers undertake a variety of roles including payroll, IT, training, planning and management positions.
Under Sainsbury’s plans (which it claims are to align with Sainsbury’s terms and conditions) the affected workers will be required to pay increased pension contributions, lose four days holiday a year, receive a lower level of death in service and suffer the loss of car allowance and other benefits. Unite estimates that the affected workers will lose between £1,600 – £3,600 a year.
The consultation period is due to end this month and in brutal wording contained in the powerpoint presentation that Sainsbury’s distributed to affected staff, workers were informed, “Colleagues who choose not to accept the new T&Cs will be served with notice of termination of employment at their final individual consultation meeting, and will leave the business after working their notice period.”
Clearly Sainsbury’s were concerned about the effect that its fire and rehire policy could have on affected workers, as not only does its presentation provide information on Validium, the company’s own employee assistance programme, but also to mental health charity Mind’s Infoline.
Unite national officer Matt Draper said, “Sainsbury’s is brutally forcing through the fire and rehire of longstanding Argos staff.
“These are extremely profitable companies and the slashing of wages and conditions is all about greed and not need.
“Loyal customers at Sainsbury’s and Argos will be horrified about how the company is treating its staff,” he added.
“The company is clearly taking advantage of the fact that Unite is not recognised for this group of workers to force through these changes.
“Sainsbury’s needs to pause its proposals and treat its workers fairly and decently and cancel its plans to fire and rehire them.”
Sainsbury’s has history of giving workers the ultimatum of signing new contracts or being sacked, as it undertook a similar action with thousands of its own workers in 2018.
While Unite, the UK’s leading union, represents many of the affected workers, there is no collective agreement recognised for this group of workers. Consultation has been restricted to individual one-to-one meetings. Workers also report that they were previously discouraged from joining a union.
Unite has repeatedly raised the alarm over an outbreak of ‘fire and rehire’ disputes across the UK as unscrupulous employers look to exploit workers using Covid-19 as an excuse.
The union is running a national campaign to get the government to outlaw the practice, in line with other competitor countries, to give UK workers protection. A recent Survation poll for Unite found seven in 10 want the practice banned.
Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal, Howard Beckett said, “It’s quite clear that the public is firmly on the side of working people when it comes to the horrific practice of fire and rehire.
“There is no grey area here. They see that this is an objectionable practice that should be banned. The government has to get on the same page as the voters on this – and fast.”
By Barckley Sumner