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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Pay Progress and Battles

by New Worker correspondent

Tuesday saw workers at computer giant IBM (the company which once said the world market for home computers could be as many as five) secure what their union, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), describes as a “top end pay deal”. They unanimously accepted a deal that gives them an across-the-board fully consolidated rise of 2.5 per cent, a victory which the union claims is to be set against an RPI inflation rate of 1.5 per cent in March and will be backdated to April to boot.

The settlement applies only to a small group of workers on an outsourced British Telecoms contract covering its mainframe service who were transferred on TUPE terms.

CWU national officer Sally Bridge said: “Despite the volatility of inflation in recent months this is a fair and reasonable settlement that compares favourably with the prevailing level of pay settlements being achieved across the UK economy.

“It does not include an increase in shift allowances, as IBM has a policy that does not link allowances to pay increases, but the overall final offer is over and above average pay increases in IBM and stacks up as above average pay increases in general.”

Recently this correspondent was distressed to return from a shopping trip bearing an inferior brand of tea due to his regular brew being unavailable.

Many in the bourgeois press have automatically blamed the visible shortages on supermarket shelves on Brexit, which has meant that desperate workers from Europe are no longer available at rock-bottom wages.

There have been shocked reports in the bourgeois media claiming that HGV drivers are now earning more than lawyers, which lawyers think is a bad thing. This is due to some supermarkets and road haulage firms suddenly having to pay decent wages.

Unite, the main union for such workers, say this is a quick fix.

Instead, it demands serious efforts to deal with long-standing issues of insecure work, low pay and unpleasant working conditions, which they say are the main causes of the labour shortages.

Bev Clarkson, Unite’s national officer for food, drink and agriculture, noted that: “Many parts of the UK food manufacturing sector, particularly poultry processing, are infamous for low wages, insecure contracts and exhausting work,” and that “supermarkets fostered and became ever more dependent on a supply chain based on a high turnover of cheap labour”.

The union’s road transport officer, Adrian Jones, pointed out the same applies on the roads, noting that: “This race-to-the-bottom employment market, determined by the supermarkets’ supply chain demands, has put workers off. But the solution for industry is not to raid other countries of their workers, but to sit down with Unite and make HGV driving a more attractive proposition.”

One firm that has ignored this call is Booker Retail Partners, which is part of Tesco, that has attempted to bypass negotiations with Unite. They made a seemingly tempting offer of a £70 per week increase for HGV drivers, with bonuses to be paid in December and March, which has strings attached. There is also a tempting three-part signing on bonus.

But this is worse than a settlement Unite negotiated at Booker’s depot in Hemel Hempstead in July, whose drivers get a more lasting £5 per hour increase in pay that is much better than the ‘bells and whistles’ deal.

This week the 40 lorry drivers at the Thamesmead depot in south London will be balloting to secure the same deal as that won at Hemel Hempstead. Regional officer Paul Travers remarked: “Booker’s ham-fisted decision to attempt to cut Unite out of negotiations has made a bad situation worse.

“Our drivers are not going to be hoodwinked into accepting a deal which is lower than what they have already been offered.

“Rather than head off strike action our members at Thamesmead are now more determined than ever to support strike action, while the prospect of industrial action spreading to other depots has increased.”

At nearby Dartford, 200 drivers at a DHL distribution centre that services Sainsbury’s are also balloting in protest at a miserable one per cent pay offer.