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Union, Supermarket Cooperate on Working Conditions

by 5m Editor
4 March 2010, at 10:06a.m.

UK - Unite and ASDA are launching an initiative to improve the working conditions for the supermarket's meat and poultry suppliers.

Unite the Union and ASDA supermarket chain, will today (4 March) launch a ground-breaking joint initiative to end discrimination and unfair treatment across the supermarket's 29 meat and poultry suppliers, employing 6000 workers.

Unite and ASDA have worked together, including meeting with all 29 of the suppliers to the supermarket, which range from major multi-nationals to local suppliers. The aim has been to move to a new business model of supply chain management which is efficient, effective and crucially which ensures workers are treated fairly and equally.

Unite has criticised the way in which supermarkets abuse their market power to drive down costs along the supply chain, leading to a two-tier labour market, with agency workers, overwhelmingly migrant, on poorer conditions of employment and the directly-employed workers, overwhelmingly indigenous, on better conditions of employment. That structural discrimination is currently the subject of the first inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which is due to report in March on the UK's multi-billion pound meat industry in England and Wales.

The work by Unite the Union and the EHRC has established clear evidence of unfair treatment of workers and sometimes serious division in workforces that can damage social cohesion in local communities. ASDA has itself examined in detail the practices in its supply chain, deciding that its customers would demand nothing less than action to ensure fair and equal treatment of all workers.

Central to the joint initiative by Unite and ASDA are agency workers and the directly-employed being paid the same rate of pay. A second key objective has been to maximise direct employment, ending the sometimes semi-permanent status of agency workers with, in future, agency working being undertaken only to meet seasonal fluctuations and no longer a way of life. In addition, in their dialogue with the 29 suppliers, Unite and ASDA have identified unacceptable practices which ASDA has acted to bring to an end.

Unite's Deputy General Secretary, Jack Dromey today said: "We warmly welcome ASDA's pioneering initiative which sends a clear message that one of Britain's biggest supermarkets is determined to put ethical principles into practice. ASDA's customers can be confident that there really is no place like ASDA.

"For years, supermarkets have driven down costs along their supply chain with tens of thousands of workers paying the price with discriminatory and unfair practices. It is wrong to exploit migrant agency workers on poorer conditions of employment and it is wrong to undercut directly employed workers on better conditions of employment. That divides workforces and damages social cohesion in local communities.

"The EHRC will report shortly on the outcome of its first ever inquiry into structural discrimination in the supermarket supply chain in the UK. ASDA has not waited, but instead has acted. It is a matter of regret that, for most of ASDA's competitors, the word 'ethical' is but a logo on the letterhead which is not put seriously into practice."