Oct 18, 2021
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Clarks workers continue to strike, company defends new contracts

Oct 18, 2021

A strike is continuing at the Clarks warehouse in Somerset, England with workers saying the struggling firm wants to fire and rehire them on contracts that will reduce their pay and worsen their conditions.

Image: Sandra Halliday

But management has said that the new pay rate is necessary in a tough environment and will actually see more than half of the site’s workers getting a pay rise.

The company is now majority owned by Hong Kong-based LionRock Capital, which bought control and injected capital into the firm after Clarks’ mounting losses had put its future in jeopardy. It recently reported a net loss of almost £182 million for its latest year and current management said the single £9.50 hourly rate of pay is needed to give the firm a viable future.

But workers at the Westway warehouse in Street, Somerset — some of whom have worked for the business for decades — began a strike in early October saying that contract changes mean they’re now struggling financially. The company has also reportedly changed conditions around sick pay and redundancy.

The business said the warehouse’s different rates of pay are unworkable long term.

A spokesperson told the BBC: “Westway has a two-tier workforce with staff doing the same jobs working side by side on different rates of pay and terms.” 

The striking workers say that those on lower rates should have their money increased to match those on better terms. But the spokesperson added: “Those employed many years ago have significantly better terms than their colleagues which is unsustainable for us.” 

The fire and rehire approach has been taken by a number of UK companies in recent years — especially in the light of the pandemic — and has attracted plenty of adverse publicity. The UK government has said it disagrees with the approach but it hasn’t introduced any legislation to outlaw it.

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