Protesters march on Asda HQ in Leeds city centre over national pay dispute

Protesters at Asda in Leeds city centre
Protesters at Asda in Leeds city centre
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Protesters have descended on Asda headquarters in Leeds city centre as part of a national dispute with the GMB union over new pay proposals.

Members of the GMB union have staged a 'surprise protest' at Asda House in Leeds city centre to oppose new contract changes affecting more than 60,000 staff nationwide.

Protesters at Asda in Leeds city centre

Protesters at Asda in Leeds city centre

They are protesting about planned changes to worker contracts that effects flexibility and pay.

Currently there are 6 types of contracts Asda staff could be on - even if they work in the same Asda store.

Asda is proposing to merged contracts 1 to 5 into one contract known as "contract 6."

"Contract 6" was introduced in 2017 and is a flexible contract, meaning workers are contracted to be flexible about when and what times they work.

This has caused concern for many members of staff in Asda stores across the country.

Robert Deavy, 41, is the lead of the Scottish division of GMB and headed down to Leeds to protest.

He said: "It is a massive issue that's affecting every worker. A lot of people are unhappy with the new contract.

"It will make our colleagues subject to the flexible contract. It takes away the terms and conditions that staff have accrued over many years of loyal service - no more paid bank holidays, paid tea breaks and they are planning to stop Scottish workers taking the Scottish bank holiday off on the 2nd January.

"They just want colleagues at their beck and call. It's not about the family values - it's more of them saying 'you will be here when we want you."

Jon Smith, GMB, 45, the lead officer for the Yorkshire region, agreed and said it was an "enforced change with no benefit to the employees" and that puts 68,000 jobs at risk.

Mr Smith said that flexibility is a particular concern as women make up a lot of the Asda workforce.

He added: "A lot of our workers are women who rely on flexible contracts for families and caring responsibilities. Although their contract hours won't change, the company, for example, could change a worker's a part-time contract to cover different days of the week of the week or even weekend work. This impacts on things like childcare.

"The flexibility clause allows the company to give just three weeks notice to any staff about any changes to their hours or when they work."

"We hope they back off this proposal, take it off the table in it's current form and work with us."

Part of the protest was over the company's proposal pay rise for workers.

Protesters from GMB claimed that despite the pay increase, workers would be out of pocket due to the removal of paid breaks, night shift allowances and paid bank holidays.

A consultation is due to take place on Wednesday afternoon involving Asda and GMB representatives.

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A spokesman for GMB said: "A consultation is currently taking place on proposed changes to the terms and conditions of Asda contracts 1 to 5, in order to standardise all contracts with Contract 6, a flexible contract introduced in 2017 and one which 50,835 Asda workers are currently on.

"Despite Contract 6 having a 63 pence per hour increase on the original contracts, the new contract would still leave GMB members on other Asda contracts worse off due to what they will lose from changes to paid meal breaks, the loss of hours, changes to the night shift window and a flat rate for bank holiday work.

"The flexible contract also means the company has the ability to change the number of staff working days, hours and their department with just 3-week notice.

"Asda has stated any colleagues unwilling to agree and accept the proposed contract would potentially be served notice of their current contract and offered re-engagement on the new terms and conditions to take effect at the end of the notice period, with no further compensation. Should the colleague not wish to accept the new terms, they would then be dismissed."

Passing cars honked their support while protesters waved placards and marched around the premises at about noon.

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An Asda spokesperson said: “We are currently consulting with our colleagues and their representatives over a proposal to invest in an increased rate of pay and changes to terms and conditions, which would enable us to deliver better service to our customers in an intensely competitive marketplace and would make 95% of our colleagues financially better off. This consultation is ongoing and we will always have conversations about change with our colleagues first.”

Asda said when announcing the changes in a press release: "The proposals would see all Asda’s retail colleagues receive an increase in their basic hourly rate to £9 per hour, as well as maintaining their existing benefits such as annual bonus, colleague discount, sharesave and pension.

"In return, colleagues could be asked to agree to work more flexible times and different departments in their store, as well as forgoing paid breaks. The proposed changes would bring Asda into line with widely-known industry standards and align all Asda’s retail hourly-paid colleagues to a single contract.

"Similar proposals were recently voted on in Northern Ireland as part of a collective bargaining agreement, where they were recommended for approval by union USDAW and accepted with a ‘yes vote’ at ballot by 84% of USDAW members on a turnout of 87%."