Clarks accused of using agency workers to cover strike

Clarks accused of using agency workers to cover strike
The shoe retailer Clarks is in a dispute with a trade union over the alleged use of agency workers to cover a strikers at its warehouse in Somerset.

The Community union has complained to government about one case and says it is investigating more.

Using agency workers to break a strike is against the law.

Clarks says its agency workers are not doing the jobs of strikers, and it has always acted “according to the law”.

Workers at the Clarks warehouse in Street, Somerset have been on strike for over a month in a dispute over pay and conditions.

A number of employment agencies are advertising positions as warehouse operatives at the site.

It is illegal for an employment agency to supply temporary workers to perform the duties of those who are taking industrial action, says Neil Todd of Thompsons Solicitors.

Clarks confirms that it is using agency workers at the site, but it denies that they are doing the work of striking workers.

It says that while individual agency workers come and go, their total number never exceeds the number employed at the beginning of the strike.

“Throughout this period of industrial action, Clarks has been acting according to the law. Clarks is not using agency workers to cover employees who are on strike,” the company said in a statement.

Community, which represents the striking workers, complained to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about one particular individual.

Image source, Getty

He was employed as a general worker but was seen on a number of occasions driving a forklift which was usually driven by a worker who was on strike.

The BBC understands that Clarks views this as an isolated operational mistake which senior managers put a stop to as soon as they were made aware.

Clarks says it has shown the union details of the agency workers it is employing to demonstrate that they are operating within the law.

However the union remains unhappy with the use of agency workers at the warehouse. A spokesperson said: “we are continuing to investigate further wrongdoing and will appeal this with the relevant agencies wherever it may be found."

The strike at the warehouse in Street, Somerset began on 4 October. The union says 120 to 230 workers have taken part, though Clarks says the true number is lower.

Clarks asked warehouse workers to sign on to new employment contracts, which would mean a pay rise for some workers, but worse pay and conditions for longer-standing workers who were on a more generous deal.

The union says Clarks is using the controversial ‘fire-and-rehire’ tactics which have been at the centre of a political row in recent months.

A spokesperson said: “The terms that Clarks are attempting to force on their employees, seeing some lose between 15% and 20% of their annual income, will lead many into financial destitution and even homelessness.”

Clarks says it has to cut costs across the company to remain viable – it lost £172m last year as the pandemic reduced worldwide sales by 44%. It has also offered to top up salaries of those who would lose money until 2023.

Founded in Somerset in 1825 by two brothers, Cyrus and James, Clarks shops became a fixture on the British high street, selling shoes to generations of schoolchildren.

It currently has 460 UK stores and over 700 more around the world. Workers in shops are not affected by the new contracts and are not on strike.

Earlier this year Hong Kong-based private equity group , as the Clark family lost control of the business for the first time in nearly two centuries.

Clarks chief executive Victor Herrero stepped down yesterday after nine months in the job. Clarks said he was only appointed on a temporary basis to turn the business round.
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