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SHOPWORKERS’ union Usdaw has passed a major milestone by negotiating a £10-an-hour basic pay rate for well over 100,000 workers at the Morrisons supermarket chain.
The deal, shortly to go out for consultation among union members at the retail giant, is certainly good news for Morrisons staff — but it also sets a historic benchmark for pay talks with other key employers in the sector.
And it is a major success for the union’s New Deal for Workers campaign that has the £10 basic rate at the centre of a charter of demands aimed at creating security, dignity and fairness for all in the retail and distribution industry.
Usdaw national officer Joanne McGuinness says the union had been discussing the £10 rate with Morrisons “for some time” and is delighted that those talks have pushed basic pay beyond the Living Wage Foundation’s real living wage of £9.50 and way past the government’s minimum of between £4.55 and £8.72.
“It’s a big step forward,” says McGuinness. “It’s been a tough time for food retail staff who have worked throughout the pandemic in difficult circumstances. They deserve decent pay and this offer is a welcome boost.”
For Usdaw, the demand for fair pay includes ending the “rip-off youth rates” that allow employers to pay young workers as little as £4.55 an hour — because “every worker deserves a wage they can live on.”
It also means tackling inequality. The majority of the union’s 430,000-plus members are women, many of whom undertake essential roles which have been “undervalued and underpaid for too long.”
The new deal campaign goes beyond immediate bargaining issues, important though they are.
So alongside decent — and equal — pay must be new family-friendly rights that give parents and carers real choices when trying to strike a balance between work and family life.
Also high on the new deal agenda is a ban on zero-hours contracts, a commitment to giving contracts for a minimum of 16 hours to all workers who want them and provision for staff to have their “normal hours” stated in their contracts.
As general secretary Paddy Lillis says, negotiating better pay is fruitless if workers aren’t allowed to work the hours they need to get by or if employers can demand massive additional hours only to cut them at a moment’s notice.
Better sick pay is another of the campaign’s demands, having been thrown into the spotlight by the coronavirus pandemic: “Statutory sick pay of 95 quid a week is simply not enough — sick pay needs to be paid from day one, at your normal pay rate, and it should be paid to all workers.”
The pandemic has also highlighted the scourge of violence and abuse aimed at retail and delivery workers, with the union saying that incidents have doubled during the crisis.
Its demand for improved protection includes making it a specific offence to assault public-facing workers, “with penalties that fit the crime.”
Lillis points to the absurdity and obscenity of workers in the sector having to go to foodbanks to feed their families — and Usdaw’s new deal demands include a proper social security system that treats people with dignity and doesn’t push people further into poverty.
“Millions of low-paid workers have provided essential services to help ensure the country is fed, healthy and safe through the lockdown and will continue to do so.
“Usdaw members employed in our supermarkets, distribution warehouses, food-processing sites and home-delivery operations welcomed ‘key worker’ status, but that respect and appreciation must not fade into the background when this national crisis passes.
“There need to be lasting and fundamental changes to the way society views our lowest-paid workers. Going to work should mean a decent standard of living for all workers.”
Usdaw’s New Deal for Workers
• £10 minimum wage for all workers, ending rip-off youth rates and providing a living wage
• Minimum contract of 16 hours per week for everyone who wants one that reflects normal hours worked, plus a ban on zero-hour contracts
• Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings
• Protection at work — respect for shopworkers, abuse is not a part of the job
• A proper social security system: universal credit does not provide a safety net
• Job security, with day-one employment rights for unfair dismissal and redundancy
• Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay
• A voice at work — stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions.
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