Thursday, December 2

You’re Betraying Your Quaker Roots: Fury Against Clarks’ “Fire and Rehire” Plan | Industrial action

Clarks warehouse workers have accused the 200-year-old shoemaker of betraying his philanthropic roots by threatening them with firing if they don’t accept significant pay cuts.

More than 100 employees at Clarks’ main distribution center in Street, Somerset, where the brand was founded by two Quaker brothers in the 19th century, say the company is trying to cut their salaries by nearly 15% from the £ average. 11.16 per hour. at £ 9.50 an hour through the use of controversial fire and rehire tactics.

The workers, who have been on strike for two weeks, they have been told they must sign new contracts or risk losing their jobs without severance pay. They also face cuts in sick pay and reduced layoff packages, as well as the scrapping of paid breaks.

Clarks – what was taken by a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, LionRock Capital, in March – it closed its last shoe manufacturing plant in the UK in 2006. But the company, in which the Clarks family now has a minority stake, the headquarters and main distribution center are still on Street.

Trevor Stephens, who has worked at the warehouse for 17 years, said the company’s actions were especially impressive given its proud history in the city. “The Clark brothers were ahead of their time in caring for their staff. They built houses, schools and even a swimming pool here on Street, ”he said. “But [Clarks] they are intimidating us into accepting lower wages. It is destroying lives. It is destroying families. “

On strike: Trevor Stephens (left) and Francis Foley.
On strike: Trevor Stephens (left) and Francis Foley. Photograph: Karen Robinson / The Observer

Many employees fear that they will not be able to pay their rent or mortgage if their pay is cut. Stephens, 45, said he would not be able to pay for his apartment if the new contracts are imposed. “I need a two-room place for my children to come visit me. They won’t be able to stay if I don’t have space, ”he said. “There is a real possibility that I am losing my job, my home and my children.”

The threat has overwhelmed some staff members. Francis Foley collapsed the week after they were informed about the new contracts. “I had not had a day of sick leave in 34 years until I collapsed and broke my head at work. I was fired for five weeks due to work-related stress, ”he said. “It all got too much for me and I’m still struggling now.”

Many in the city seem to be turning against Clarks.

Workers have been inundated with messages of solidarity, with postal staff refusing to cross their picket line and food donations pouring in daily. “Clarks has betrayed the city. They have betrayed people who have worked for them for years, ”said Foley, 54, whose father and brother both worked for the firm. “People are upset with what they are doing to us. People are leaving sweets and drinks. Cars honk in support of him all the time. “

Some newer warehouse workers are paid less than longtime staff, he said: “They should raise their salary to ours.”

Last week delegations of municipal workers, firefighters and machinists joined the pickets. Dave Chapple, Secretary of the Mendip Trades Council, said: “Is this really the future of work in this country: no more collective bargaining, just industrial dictatorship?”

in a video, local Conservative MP James Heappey said the strike “is not the way to go.” Heappey said he had spoken to Stephens at his weekly surgery in July and had offered to handle individual cases with Clarks.

The strike comes as concerns grow over the use of layoffs and rehiring by employers. At least 28 companies, including British Gas and British Airways, have been accused since the start of the pandemic of threatening to fire workers who do not accept new contracts.A TUC survey this year found that one in ten workers (three million people) had experienced the tactic.

Boris Johnson has called the practice “unacceptable,” but ministers have also insisted that companies in financial distress must have the flexibility to offer new terms and conditions.

A private member bill drafted by Labor MP Barry Gardiner, which will force employers to negotiate firing and rehiring style restructurings at a much earlier stage and give unions the right to go on strike immediately if managers do not participate in the talks, it has garnered the support of more than 200 deputies from across the House of Commons.

Clarks said the pandemic had caused a 44% drop in turnover and a record loss of £ 180 million last year. “Clarks did not take this lightly, but the proposals are part of a company-wide plan to ensure future viability, with a view to protecting more than 4,000 jobs in the UK,” he said. He added that terminating the contracts under the current terms and offering a new stake under the new terms would be “the last resort.” He said the changes would mean that more than half of the distribution center workers would get a £ 9.50 hourly pay increase. He said affected workers would be protected from any pay cuts until 2023 through supplemental payments.

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