The dispute stems from the supermarket’s proposal to increase pay to £9.20 an hour for workers at 1,400 stores from this month, which Unite claimed would be eroded by ‘strings’ such as removing premium pay for Sunday working.
According to Unite, workers who had not signed the contract before 23 September faced losing their jobs. As of publishing, there have been no dismissals due to a ‘cooling off period’.
Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said many employees would suffer a reduction in their terms and conditions, with some of the longest-serving employees also being adversely affected.
‘Draconian threat of the sack’
“We have strongly argued in negotiations in recent months that those workers adversely affected by the new contract, who do not wish to accept it, can stay on their existing terms without the draconian threat of the sack,” said Clarke.
“Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we have to give further consideration to the legal process. We again appeal to Sainsbury's to meaningfully engage with us to resolve our outstanding concerns without the need for legal action.”
Unite said it was still awaiting a response from Sainsbury’s following the last collective grievance meeting on 13 September. The union is now in discussion with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) alliance that Sainsbury’s has signed up to.
‘Not granting bargaining rights’
“However, Sainsbury’s current stance contravenes section 2 of the ETI code on non-adherence which relates to not granting Unite collective bargaining rights,” added Clarke.
Unite contacted its members over the summer with a questionnaire about equal pay and possible age discrimination with the new contract, which it said it is currently analysing.
In response, a Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “While the vast majority of colleagues are receiving a pay increase, we do appreciate that a small minority of colleagues will be less well off in comparative terms.
“That’s why we have protections in place to ensure that these colleagues will receive top up payments for an 18 month period – and this will be followed by a further pay review. We do not believe there is any merit to these claims and will rigorously defend our position.”
Meanwhile, the proposed merger between retailers Asda and Sainsbury’s would “cause suppliers to suffer”, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has claimed.