More than 100 staff in Clarks’ Shoes main distribution centre in Street, Somerset, where the brand was founded have been on strike for two weeks, having been told they must sign new contracts or risk losing their jobs without redundancy pay. The firm is seeking to cut their wages by almost 15% from the average of £11.16 an hour to £9.50 an hour by using controversial fire and rehire tactics. They also face cuts to sick pay and reduced redundancy packages as well as the scrapping of paid breaks.
Clarks – which was taken over by a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, LionRock Capital, in March – closed its last UK shoemaking plant in 2006. But the company's headquarters and main distribution centre are still in Street.
Many staff fear they will not be able to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments if their pay is cut. Many in the town appear to be turning against Clarks. The workers have been inundated with messages of solidarity, with postal staff refusing to cross their picket line and food donations arriving daily. Delegations of council workers, firefighters and train drivers have joined the picket lines.
Dave Chapple, secretary of Mendip Trades Council, said: “Is this really the future for work in this country: no more collective bargaining negotiations, just industrial dictatorship?”
The strike comes as concern grows about employers’ use of fire and rehire. At least 28 firms, including British Gas and British Airways, have been accused since the start of the pandemic of threatening to sack workers who do not accept new contractsA poll for the TUC this year found one in ten 10 workers – three million people – had experienced the tactic.
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