One Hundred Plus workers at Clarks boot and shoe warehouse, Street, Somerset, are on an all-out strike against the company’s “Fire and rehire” threat. Mendip Trades Council sent solidarity greetings to the strikers as outrage and support grows, “The strike is no ‘ordinary’ industrial dispute: indeed, it would be no exaggeration to claim, that the future of this country, and the way its citizens who have to work for a living are treated by those who employ them, is in the balance. Don’t turn a blind eye to what is going on, not just at Clarks, not just in pretty ‘affluent’ rural Somerset, but all over the UK; speak out, insist on fair and accurate media reporting of “Fire and Rehire”; support Barry Gardiner MP’s Private Members Bill against Fire and Rehire”. Strikers today, up to 80 strong at both gates of the Street works , made their presence felt with placards and flags while motorist after motorist honked their horns in support.
Clarks warehouse workers, members of the Community Union, put out the following list of threats that they face:
- An average reduction in pay of £1.66 per hour: from the current £11.16p to £9.50p;
- An increase in working hours of 2.5 per week, due to paid 30-minute meal breaks being abolished;
- No pay rise for at least four years, despite the union agreeing to help the company through a ‘difficult financial spell’ by accepting two hours less per week INSTEAD of a pay rise on two different occasions and at the company’s proposal.
- Drastic cuts in sick pay: from 13 weeks full pay to 6 weeks full pay and 6 weeks half pay; abolition of sick pay for the first day of absence; no sick pay entitlement from day one of employment, only after 6 months;
- The abolition of a daily ten-minute coffee break, brought in at the company’s request to ease warehouse operations;
- A drastic reduction in redundancy entitlements: from enhanced double statutory, to statutory, ie, one week’s wages per year of service), raising fears that the company will get rid of workers, get rid of workers, even close the Street Distribution Centre, just as they are closing their distribution centre in Kendal.
- Cuts to overtime rates to time thus giving no chance to increase pay;
- No direct cuts to maternity pay or pension entitlements, BUT with a 15-20% cut in wages, pensions will suffer a drastic fall when taken out.
Teachers Union makes big donation
As outrage and solidarity grows, the latest news is that The National Education Union/NEU, whose executive council member Robin Head, a Cheddar teacher and President of Mendip TUC, has just agreed a £10,000 donation to the campaign by Labour MP Barry Gardiner who is bringing a private members bill through parliament to try to stop ‘fire and rehire’.
Dave Chapple, secretary of Mendip Trades Council said “I have personally, met four Clarks workers who fear losing their homes Inability to pay rent, mortgage) and even lose contact with their children (If only able to afford a bedsit, unsuitable accommodation for children). Is this the Clarks Quaker Family firm that was an iconic part of manufacturing, ‘factory’ Britain for 200 years? Is this, even the Clarks family firm that, even when it closed all of its Somerset factories over a 15-year period, nonetheless treated its remaining Street HQ and warehouse workers, and their trades unions, with respect? NO! Welcome to the “Brave New World” of Clarks’ new owners Lion Rock Capital. Hong Kong based, venture capitalist, hedge fund capitalist, slash and burn capitalist, just pick your most accurate label!”
“Is this really the future for work in this country: no more decent trades union recognition or collective bargaining negotiations, just industrial dictatorship, “take it or leave it” “Fire and rehire?”
A Clarks Worker Speaks Out
“I have been a 100% loyal employee of Clarks for 34 years, never taking a day off sick until 5 weeks’ ago when I collapsed at work. I am now signed off for work-related stress because the situation has become too much for me; and I am not the only one. Everyone in Westway Warehouse whose job is at risk feels exactly the same – there are some colleagues that may potentially lose their homes as a result of this company’s actions. Fire/Rehire is a terrible thing to do. Breaking our contracts is a disgrace and they should be ashamed; cutting our pay is not going to save this business. We have been told we are paying for the past mistakes of our current bosses’ predecessor – if that is the case then maybe HE should take the pay cut?
“All we are guilty of is doing the best job that we could for the last 20 years. We have endured one incompetent boss after another and that is as a consequence of the Clarks family’s poor management – AND WHERE ARE THEY NOW? I feel the family have turned their backs on us and I would very much like to remind them that going back to the 80’s. 90’s and 00’s, when this great company was making several millions, we were there getting the product out to the customer. I think the family have forgotten how loyal we were, and still could be if given an unprejudiced chance. We have not been awarded a pay rise or cost of living rise in over 5 years when household bills have continued to climb – energy, food, council tax, national insurance…in fact everything, yet this company wants to cut our pay by 15% stating that the only time we will receive a pay rise is when minimum wage catches up (which will be next year).
An idea was put forward by us of everyone in the company, from the CEO down, taking a 1% pay cut this year – that would make more of a difference. They originally wanted to cut our pay by 25%, this then changed to 15% – what nice people!
Back in July we had a video meeting with the boss of distribution for the company. I explained about my 34 years of service and he responded that he “does not give a damn about my loyal service and nor does Clarks”.
When I am not working, I am a carer for my 87-year-old dad – I don’t need or deserve this, and neither do my colleagues.
A few days before I collapsed, we were all summoned so that our boss could read out the new contract; he stated it’s a “sh*t deal, but it’s all we’re going to get” – how do you think that makes us all feel? This company is an absolute disgrace; Clarks say they “care” about my mental health issues but frankly that’s crap! They have mentally broken me; I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again.
I am asking that the Clarks family step in and stop the shameful actions THEIR company is implementing, show us the same allegiance we have shown them. Or are they willing to sit back and do nothing? I sincerely hope not …
I would like to thank Barry Gardiner, MP, for bringing in a bill to make the disgraceful practice of Fire and Rehire illegal. I hope it gets through even though it will be too late for us. Thanks, Barry for coming to Street and giving us your support. (NB: See NEU donation news below, DC)
Just a couple more things: if anyone from the media gets a chance to speak with a member of the Clarks family perhaps ask them if it’s OK for their senior personnel to inform a dedicated workforce that the deal they are being offered is sh*t. Do they consider that acceptable?
My colleagues and I have been told to make “lifestyle changes” – how do we “change” the necessity to provide food for our families and pay bills?
Lastly, none of us wanted to take strike action but we feel we have no choice; some of my colleagues will be fired within weeks if they don’t sign the deplorable contract. All we want is to be to go back to doing the best job that we can, as we have always done.”
We surely can’t all become unemployed or self-employed!!”