Diehard Blairites like Liz Kendall only publicly fight on behalf of workers’ rights when they are forced to. And now happens to be one of those rare moments where Kendall is playing a small part in promoting the rights of workers employed by the union-hating bosses at Samworth Brothers (“Samworth’s boss accused of not answering MPs questions on pay and conditions,” Leicester Mercury, May 24).
On May 10, Kendall wrote to Alex Knight, the CEO of Samworth Brothers, in the aftermath of “one of the busiest meetings” she had ever held as a local MP. She explained to the CEO, how at her packed meeting with his workers (on April 28), they were all “concerned that they would end up worse off” as a result of the changes in their contracts.
“[V]irtually all the employees who attended the meeting said they had felt forced into signing the new contracts because if they didn’t, they would lose their jobs – despite the fact that some of them have worked for Samworth Brothers for 15 years or more.” She added: “I am deeply concerned by reports from your staff of being bullied by their managers into signing the new contracts.”
Having previously met in person with Samworth Group Executive Directors, Paul Davey and Ian Fletcher (on April 29), she is well aware that they were a little dishonest, to say the least, when they told her that only 15% of the 2,000 workers at the Bradgate Bakery would be worse off — and that even those few would only by poorer by an average of £200 a year.
Realising she was being taken for a fool, Kendall politely asked for some facts and figures to back up these unlikely projections, but, as she observed in her letter, “this information has so far not been forthcoming.”
She also took the opportunity to “urge Samworth Brothers to recognise the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union.” “Collective bargaining is by far the best way to address issues of staff pay, terms and conditions” she wrote. “I understand that voluntary recognition is being discussed at your [Kettleby Foods] site in Melton Mowbray and I believe this would be the best way forward at your Bradgate Bakery site too.”
In response, Samworth Brothers continue to pretend that they are actually helping their increasingly angry and frustrated workforce, while refusing to provide any answers to Kendall’s simple questions, and refusing to give voluntary recognition to the Bakers Union at the Kettleby site. The latter refusal coming in face of the fact that more than 50% of workers there have joined the union because of the proposed changes.
Samworth bosses, however, have now gone further by sacking the main worker responsible for recruiting hundreds of workers into the Bakers Union (Kumaran Bose); and they continue to threaten disciplinary action against any workers who even so much as talk about unions in the workplace.
Such workplace bullying has no place in a democratic society, although, as we all know, it is all too common. But we should be proud of the fact that Samworth workers are fighting back.
But being proud is not enough, and these workers need all the help they can get. So spread the word amongst your own workplace and friends, and consider writing a letter to the Leicester Mercury in order to help raise the profile of their ongoing struggle. We also need to build a mass campaign to demand the end of bullying and the immediate reinstatement of Kumaran Bose!
Email a short letter between 50 to 300 words to the newspaper at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Although you need to include your name and address in the email, the Mercury can still publish your letter anonymously if you request it.