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Cath Everett

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Landmark agency and permanent staff wage equality

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Asda’s landmark deal to ensure that agency workers in its meat and poultry supply chain are paid the same as permanent staff is likely to pile pressure on other supermarket chains to follow suit.

 
The retailer’s move comes ahead of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission looking into working practices in the English and Welsh meat and poultry sector, which is due to be released later this month. It also comes in advance of a European Agency Workers Directive, which is scheduled to come into force later next year.
 
Jack Dromey, Unite’s deputy general secretary, said: “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.”
 
He added that it was wrong to exploit agency staff, who were predominately migrant workers, and wrong to undercut directly employed workers who had better conditions of employment. Such an approach only served to divide workforces and damaged social cohesion in local communities, Dromey said.
 
Asda’s pre-emptive strike came after it worked with the Unite union and all 29 of its suppliers, which employ about 6,000 staff, to identify and rectify unacceptable practices, including, in some instances, changing the semi-permanent status of agency workers. Agency labour will now only be taken on to meet seasonal fluctuations in demand.
 
The new pay deal and alterations to staff terms and conditions are expected to cost Asda and its suppliers about £2.4 million to implement.
 
The supermarket chain said in a statement: “Following our own investigation into working conditions in the meat sector, we agreed with Unite that agency workers who do the same work as permanent workers should receive equal pay, and that agency work should not be used as a means of preventing them from accessing the same rights as permanent workers.”
 
The European Agency Workers Directive will give temporary staff employed for more than 12 weeks the same rights to pay, sick leave and holiday accrual as permanent workers.
 
The government estimates that there are about 1.3 million agency personnel in the UK, amounting to about 5% of the working population. The British Chamber of Commerce predicts that adhering to the Directive will cost UK business around £1.5 billion per year.
 

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