Hundreds of Asda workers have marched on the company’s headquarters and handed over a petition opposing a new contract described as “a stain on the reputation of Asda and its history”.
The employees beat drums, blew horns and chanted as they pushed a shopping trolley through the busy streets of Leeds city centre to deliver the 23,000 signatures to Asda’s head office.
The union says Asda workers have been told to sign new contracts, called contract six, which it claims will see them lose paid breaks and forced to work bank holidays, or be sacked next month.
On Wednesday, the workers gathered in City Square, Leeds, ahead of the march and listened to speeches by colleagues, GMB officers and Labour MP Alex Sobel.
Many held placards with the slogans “Asda, respect your workers” and “Your choice is no choice”.
Mr Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, told the crowd: “Leeds is the birthplace of modern retail and Asda is certainly part of that.
“And the city has been proud of Asda over the years, having its headquarters here, having so many big stores here, but contract six is a stain on the reputation of Asda and its history.”
He added: “Only workers standing together can actually defeat the worst excesses of this sort of rapacious capitalism.”
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: “We will never agree to the imposition of contract six, we will never agree to our members having to sign this inevitable contract that says ‘sign up or you’re sacked’, we will never agree to that and we will never stop fighting.”
Employees repeated the call for the supermarket to respect its workers.
Loraine Fox, union rep for Peterlee Asda who said she has worked for the company for 13 years, told the protesters: “At first it was a family-orientated company, who understood the importance of childcare and other issues surrounding flexibility for all colleagues. Over the last few years, they have been slowly chipping away at our rights and benefits.”
She continued: “Colleagues and brothers and sisters, if we fight, we may not always win but if we don’t fight, we will always lose.
“Asda respect your workers.”
Deb Robson, union rep for Stanley Asda, in County Durham, described contract six as “disrespectful and pathetic”.
She said: “This contract is not our choice. Colleagues have been made to sign this contract by being made to feel fearful of losing jobs. This is wrong and unfair and it must be stopped.
“We demand a better deal. Asda, respect your workers now.”
As the workers took to the streets of Leeds, police officers stopped traffic to allow them to march safely.
When they reached Asda’s headquarters, the protesters chanted “shame on you” as the trolley containing the petition was handed over to a staff member and wheeled into the building.
Gary Carter, GMB national officer, earlier described the contract as “draconian”.
He said: “Contract six is shocking, the changes are forcing our members to choose between looking after their families, or being able to support them. It’s a disgrace.
“Today we are back in the birthplace of Asda, once a proud, family company, calling on bosses to respect workers and offer them a better deal.”
Asda said the contract is about increasing the take-home pay of more than 100,000 employees through an investment of more than £80 million and ensuring that everyone doing the same job is on the same terms and conditions.
A spokesman 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.”
The Asda spokesman added: “This contract is an investment of more than £80 million and increases real pay for over 100,000 colleagues in return for a level of flexibility that ensures we are able to adapt to the demands of the highly competitive retail industry.”