Asda staff fear for jobs as deadline looms to sign controversial contracts

·Finance and policy reporter
Asda workers marched through Leeds today, to Asda�s headquarters where they handed over a trolley containing a 23,000-strong petition opposing a controversial new contract.
Asda workers marched through Leeds in October. Photo: PA

Asda faces mounting pressure from staff, shoppers and MPs for threatening to lay off thousands of staff unless they sign a controversial new contract by this weekend.

The retail giant set a deadline this Saturday night for its workers to sign the new terms, which it has said are industry-standard and ensure it has “the right colleagues in the right place at the right time.”

But the move has sparked a sustained backlash by staff and unions, who protested last month and signed an open letter to parent firm Walmart’s (WMT) CEO Judith McKenna.

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Workers fear they will lose paid breaks and be forced to work bank holidays, with thousands reported to be still holding out by not signing the contracts.

Labour frontbench MP Keir Starmer said on Twitter on Friday: “Asda is threatening to sack it’s workers unless they sign a punishing new contract. This is wrong on so many levels.”

Logos of supermarket chain Asda are pictured on the handles of shopping trolleys outside a store in Stockport, northern England on April 30, 2018. - Britain's second and third biggest supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda have agreed to merge, the pair said Monday, hoping to create a £13-billion ($18-billion, 15-billion-euro) retail king and leapfrog UK number one Tesco. The blockbuster deal -- which is effectively a takeover bid with Sainsbury's acquiring a majority 58-percent stake -- comes as the British supermarket sector faces squeezed profit margins and fierce competition from German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl and online US titan Amazon. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)        (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Asda workers fear for their jobs over a new contract. Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

One long-standing staff member said colleagues were forced to sign so-called ‘contract six’ as they were “terrified” of losing their jobs.

Cath Sutton, from Runcorn in north-west England, told the BBC she feared being forced to work “any time from five in the morning to 12 at night.”

The 76-year-old said she had spent more than 40 years at the company, and worried it could see her position changed entirely and leave her “carrying heavy boxes.”

An open letter by the GMB union reads: “This contract will really impact on a lot of Asda workers who have caring responsibilities, just can't sign up for increasingly insecure hours.

“On Saturday, those who cannot sign the contract will be sacked. That's appalling.”

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But an Asda spokesman told PA the contracts would see an increase in real pay for staff and marked an investment of £80m in its workforce.

He said: “The overwhelming majority of our colleagues from across all our stores have signed onto the new contracts and while we appreciate that some of our colleagues find the changes more unsettling, we do not want any of them to leave.

“We understand colleagues have commitments outside of work and will not be asking them to constantly move the time they work, their days or departments.”

Asda also announced last week it would increase workers’ basic hourly pay from £9 to £9.18 from April next year, and to £10.31 in London.

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