By Gerry Bates
Members of the GMB union working in Asda Wal-Mart depots have voted by three to one to take strike action to win collective bargaining rights at all 20 distribution depots, to ensure the payment of the 2005 bonus and to have safe working practices.
Earlier this year Asda Wal-Mart said 70% of its workers would get no bonus in 2005, despite making £770m profits for the company! This was because the firm did not meet its profit target of £850 million! The GMB estimate a “saving” of £12 million for the company.
Bonuses mean a lot to Asda staff. One fifth get just £5.23 a hour. That wage will rise only when the minimum wage goes up in October — to £5.35 an hour. Last year the firm tried to cut Christmas discounts and working rosters to save money.
Asda is also trying to impose ridiculous workloads on warehouse and depots staff, putting them at risk from serious injury. At present workers move up to 1,100 boxes every shift. The firm wants to increase this to 1,400 per shift — equivalent to the weight of a car extra every day.
Asda Wal-Mart has waged a consistent campaign of victimisation and discrimination against workers and trade union reps. It has frequently suspended GMB stewards and obstructed their rights.
The GMB has 25,000 members working in Asda’s 302 stores and 20 distribution depots out of the total workforce of 140,000. In the stores GMB is the recognised union but collective bargaining rights have been withdrawn. The union has collective bargaining rights in nine of the depots. It has members in the other eleven depots but is not recognised for bargaining purposes.
In February this year an employment tribunal penalised Asda Wal-Mart to the tune of £850,000 for inducing employees to give up collective bargaining.
The current ballot was called after the firm reneged on an agreement covering recognition, bargaining rights and access for the union in the distribution depots and access in the stores.
Asda Wal-Mart has had to make payouts for race and disability discrimination cases. In January 2006 Asda agreed to pay £750 to each of 37 GMB members employed at Asda Lutterworth warehouse and depot and make a public apology for the racial discrimination workers were subjected to. Managers asked workers with foreign sounding names to bring into work proof of identity and that they had a right to work in the UK.
In March this year, an employment tribunal in Manchester ruled that Asda was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act in sacking Paul Turner. He was sacked in May 2005 for taking seven minutes to take his epilepsy medication, a condition he had suffered since childhood and which Asda was aware of.
ASDA is part of the international corporate giant Wal-Mart. In the US not a single one of Wal-Mart’s 3,600 stores is union organised. Why? Because workers want rights and decent wages. Workers in unions complain about such things as Wal-Mart’s CEO taking home $17.5 a year ($8,434 a hour) while the average Wal-Mart worker earns just $9.68 an hour.
The GMB has started a fightback against this, one of the meanest, stingiest, most anti-worker corporations in the world. If they win it will help workers in other supermarkets like Tesco who, despite a so-called “partnership” with the union USDAW, have seen their pay cut and union rights undermined. And it will strengthen the fight to force this New Labour government to repeal Tory anti-union laws and legislate for workers’ rights to union representation.
• GMB’s Asda Wal-Mart campaign website www.gmbinasda.unionweb.co.uk
• Asda Watch: www.AsdaWatch.org