Exclusive: Asda Chief Exec claims staff are not being forced to sign new contracts despite worker claims to the contrary

Ben Wray

One Asda worker in Scotland told GMB that the new ‘flexible’ contract would make it impossible for her to meet home and work commitments

  • Asda CEO Roger Burnley states in letter that the new contracts were not being forced on staff, but the GMB union say Asda workers have been given until 2 November to sign or be sacked
  • The new contract increases the ‘flexibility’ of work, which includes mandatory work on public holidays, unpaid work breaks and insecurity over working hours
  • Seven Glasgow MPs from Labour and SNP have written to Burnley calling for him to take the concerns of their constituents – employees of Asda who have said the contracts will be detrimental to them financially and socially – seriously

THE supermarket Asda’s chief executive Roger Burnley has denied claims by workers in the GMB union that they have been told to sign new ‘flexible’ contracts or face redundancy, in a letter seen exclusively by CommonSpace.

Burnley, who was responding to Glasgow South West constituency MP Chris Stephens, said in a letter signed 12 August that the new contracts were “not about forcing any colleagues to make a choice”.

“We have held several 1-2-1 meetings with each individual colleague and encouraged them to ask questions about the contract and outline their expectations of individual circumstances. This is not about forcing any colleagues to make a choice,” he wrote.

Despite this, Asda members of the GMB have reported to the union that they have been given until 2 November, 12 weeks yesterday, to sign Contract 6, which had previously been voluntarily but, the union say, has now been made mandatory.

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Contract 6 imposes a number of changes to terms and conditions which include mandatory working on public holidays and not being paid for breaks. The contracts also make working hours more flexible, increasing the insecurity of income for workers. Packaged in with the structural changes is an increase in the annual pay rate to £9 an hour, which the UK Government has said will become the minimum wage rate by 2020.

In his letter to Stephens, Burnley said Contract 6 was necessary for the company, owned by US corporate giant Walmart, to remain “competitive”.

“We are operating in one of the most fiercely competitive and fast changing markets in the world. Our customers have changed the way they shop, so we need to change the way we work in order to serve them well. This will benefit our customers and ultimately the long-term security of our business,” Burnley, who turned down a meeting request with Stephens, wrote.

Burnley outlined a number of areas that had been changed about Contract 6 after negotiation, including an increase from three to four weeks in requesting a worker change department/work pattern, but added that “there were some proposals that we were not able to accept, but this is the nature of consultation”.

Seven Glasgow MPs from SNP and Labour, including Stephens, signed a letter sent to Burnley on Monday calling for him to listen to the concerns of Asda employees over the new contracts.

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The MPs said that they had been contacted by constituents working for the company who believe the new terms and conditions “will have a detrimental impact on them, financially and socially”.

They described a proposed 18 month transition payment for those worse off from the changes as “derisory” and that the threat of unemployment was “particularly egregious for those employees who have given many years of service to your company”.

They said any rise in hourly pay “would be rendered meaningless” if the new ‘flexibility’ built into the contracts led to reduced working hours.

“Discussions with our constituents and their trade union representatives have also revealed an unnecessary heavy hand on the part of Asda; staff being told in no uncertain terms that they either accept the new conditions or their employment will be terminated,” the letter, which called on Burnley to meet with them, stated.

One Asda worker in Scotland, who wished to remain anonymous, told the GMB Union that the new contract could leave her in an impossible position in terms of balancing work and home commitments.

She said: “My son has a very rare disorder which means I have to do everything for him. He is emotionally attached to me so when I have to leave him to go to work he can’t cope and makes himself sick.

“My husband had an accident which left him with a neurological disorder – his mobility is poor and in constant pain.

“On the afternoons I work, my son goes to an out of school club as my husband isn’t able to look after him on his own.

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“If Asda forces me onto Contract 6, I’m worried I will have to leave so I can look after my family.”

Ninety-three per cent of respondents told GMB in a consultative ballot that they did not agree with Contract 6. 

GMB have organised a protest for 14 November, 12 noon, at its national office in Leeds City Square against the imposition of the contract, which is being introduced across the whole of the UK.

The union has launched a petition calling on Asda to respect their workers. You can access it here

Picture courtesy of Chris White

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