We live in exciting times as socialists in Britain, where the arguments we have made, for example, about the need for social justice, employment rights, and an investment led economic recovery, have been thrust into the mainstream by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory.
The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a think tank established in 2012 to act as a hub for left debate and discussion; and has benefitted from both trade unions support, and also a very impressive set of experts on the advisory panel. Class have produced – for example – an excellent briefing on the Tories proposed Trade Union bill, and a useful pamphlet on immigration. The type of research and popularisation of left ideas which Class is engaged with now has far greater potential, in conjunction with the Corbyn led Labour Party, than it did previously, and should be supported.
The elected chair of Class is Tim Roache, who is also Regional Secretary of Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Region of the GMB, and is currently standing as candidate for General Secretary of the union. Ballot papers will be going out to members shortly along with the GMB’s magazine.
I was delighted to see an excellent blog post by Tim on the Class website about the exploitation of agency workers in the Marks and Spencer UK supply chain, through abuse of the so-called Swedish Derogation, an issue that we have been campaigning about in Swindon. as Tim explains:
Over 75% of the workers at M & S Swindon are agency workers. The pay rates range from £8.57 an hour down to £6.50, even for workers who are stood side by side doing identical jobs.
There’s quite a supply chain to follow as well. The Swindon distribution centre, which is owned by M & S, is used to supply their stores. But M & S contract out the running of the facility to DHL. DHL in turn contract recruitment agency 24-7 to provide agency workers, who are given employment contracts in the name of Tempay Ltd – which is registered at the same address as 24-7.
In order to get round the Agency Workers Regulations, Tempay/24-7 have their workers on 7 hour a week permanent contracts. We all know what comes next. The workers who are contracted for 7 hours are routinely working a full 37 hours a week, in reality for DHL and M & S even though they are counted as permanent employees of Tempay when it comes to their pay. Many have been stuck in this trap for years, but because their contract is permanent, the Swedish Derogation applies.
Even worse, because only the 7 hours a week are guaranteed, the company can remove the offer of work at any time. They can even turn staff away when turn up for work at what they thought was the start of their shift, and leave them out of pocket for the week.
With a global revenue topping £10bn it’s hardly like M & S can’t afford to do the right thing, certainly not if we contrast the huge pay and bonus package that CEO Marc Bolland has been awarded with the plight of the Swindon workers.
M & S like to tell us about their values in their PR. They famously started out as an equal partnership between its founders, one a refugee who set up a stall with a borrowed £5. Today, they point to a Code of Ethics and Global Sourcing Principles, including respect for basic labour protections. In fact, their social and environmental programme, marketed as Plan A “because there is no Plan B” promised partnership at work and improvements for workers in the supply chain.
So they’re not just breaching the spirit of the law but of their own policies – surely what applies to overseas suppliers must apply at home. Yet the staff at Swindon are very much living in Plan B and these days, Marks gets paid less than Sparks.
That is why the GMB are now taking legal action on behalf of our members. This is a blatant misuse of the legislation to make a quick profit off the backs of a desperate, exploited workforce. It’s time to take a stand, and the GMB’s position is clear: equal pay for equal work. Nothing less will do