Last Monday (April 18), the House of Commons hosted a much-needed debate on the National Living Wage. Labour MP for Enfield North, Joan Ryan, introduced the revealing discussion noting that, in spite of the introduction of the new living wage, “some employers are cutting overall remuneration packages to offset the cost of its introduction, leaving thousands of low-paid employees significantly worse off; and calls, therefore, on the Government to guarantee that no worker will be worse off as a result of the introduction of the national living wage.”
Focusing on the example of a local Beaumont Leys factory that is owned by Samworth Brothers, she explained how…
“…the pay that it is offering staff is a lot less tasty than its food. Bradgate has written to all its Leicestershire staff, detailing changes to their wages. Most shop-floor employees at Bradgate were earning just over £6.70 an hour before 1 April, so the introduction of the national living wage should have made quite a difference for them, but Bradgate, like B&Q, has found an opportunity to save money…
“[S]o it has changed staff terms and conditions to phase out double pay for Sundays by 2019. That means that while employees on the national minimum wage earned £13.78 per hour on a Sunday last month, by 2019 they will earn just £9 per hour. That is the national living wage according to Bradgate Bakery. Extra pay for night shifts, Saturdays and overtime are also being scaled back. In sum, Bradgate workers are being sold a lie: they are told that their pay is increasing, but what the Government are giving with one hand, Bradgate is taking with another. According to one very worried worker who approached my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, these cuts will affect the whole range of shifts that run in the factories. That means that by 2018 a production operative on night shift will be paid £2,778 less a year, while a night shift team leader will be paid £344 less.”
The Conservative Party’s Minister of State for Skills, Nick Boles, certainly did not agree with most of Labour’s contributions during the debate, but he was sure on one thing, saying:
In a follow-on program concerning the living wage, broadcast by BBC Radio 4 (on April 23), Tory MP Chris Philp, who is a member of the Treasury Select Committee, also made it apparent that he disagreed with the callous way in which Samworth Brothers were cutting premiums observing:
“I think it is absolutely wrong that employers have reduced overtime pay as a way of partially circumventing the minimum wage increase, and I think the boards of those companies should reconsider, they should think again about their obligations, and I think the government should directly put pressure on them.”
Unfortunately, as an employer, Samworth Brothers think they are immune from such criticisms for their current actions, and despite more than 50% of their Bradgate workers having now joined the Bakers Union, the Samworth management are doing everything in their power to deny formal recognition of the union. Samworth bosses are also stepping up their campaign of bullying and scaremongering to try to prevent workers speaking out against the ongoing attacks on their livelihoods.
With all three of Leicester’s MPs being members of the Labour Party, and 52 of the 54 city councillors also being Labour members, it therefore seems that much can, and should, be done to bring some pressure to bear upon Samworth Brothers. Samworth must stop their bullying and immediately move to recognise the Bakers Union — a union which is after all affiliated to the Labour Party.
Labour MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, has at least held meetings with some Samworth workers and with their bosses. But despite recent national media attention, since then Vaz has since remained strangely silent on this issue. Our other two Labour MPs have yet to publicly weigh in on Samworth’s exploitation of local workers, but Liz Kendall (Leicester West) has finally announced that she will be speaking on this matter at a public meeting to be held this Thursday.
Now, more than ever, it will be crucial for people across Leicester to contact their local MPs and councillors to politely demand that they swiftly move to take affirmative action by vocally siding with the Samworth workers against their greedy Tory-funding bosses.
I would suggest a short email may help, or leaving a message on their answer phones, and/or organising to meet with them in person:
- Liz Kendall MP (Leicester West): email email@example.com; phone 0116 204 4980; twitter @leicesterliz
- Keith Vaz MP (Leicester East): email firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 0116 276 9144; twitter @keith4leicester
- Jon Ashworth (Leicester South): email email@example.com; phone 0116 251 1927; twitter @jonashworth
The three Labour councillors for Beaumont Leys are:
- Councillor Paul Westley: email firstname.lastname@example.org; or text/phone 07581 019660
- Councillor Hemant Rae Bhatia: email@example.com; or text/phone 07736 194823
- Councillor Susan Waddington (Assistant City Mayor – Jobs & Skills): email firstname.lastname@example.org; or text/phone 07875 546321
Finally if you happen to be a member of Unite the union, or Unite Community for that matter, it may be worth specifically mentioning this to Councillor Susan Waddington who amazingly is not yet a member of any union, unlike her fellow ward councillors who are both proud Unite members.