Unite is gearing up for a legal battle with Sainsbury’s over a collective grievance by the union’s members in the long-running ‘sign or be sacked’ contracts row affecting 123,000 workers.

Unite, which has 11,000 members at the retail giant, has taken legal steps to protect those have been told by Sainsbury’s they had to sign the new contracts by 23 September – or face the sack.

Despite the deadline passing, Unite said there had been no dismissals yet as there is a ‘cooling off’ period, while all the stages of the grievance procedure are worked through. The union has already lodged a protective award with an employment tribunal in relation to the consultation process.

Unite said the dispute stems from the firm’s proposal to increase pay to £9.20 an hour for workers at Sainsbury’s 1,400 stores from this month, which would be eroded by ‘strings’ such as removing premium pay for Sunday working. The normal current rate is £8.00 an hour.

Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said: “Many employees, men and women, are suffering a reduction in their terms and conditions. It is the longest serving employees who are also being adversely affected.

“We have strongly argued in negotiations in recent months that those workers adversely affected by the new contract, who do not wish to accept it, can stay on their existing terms without the draconian threat of the sack.

"Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we have to give further consideration to the legal process. We again appeal to Sainsbury's to meaningfully engage with us to resolve our outstanding concerns without the need for legal action.

“We are still waiting a response from the last collective grievance meeting on 13 September.

“We are also in discussion with The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which Sainsbury’s has signed up to. However, Sainsbury’s current stance contravenes section 2 of the ETI code on non-adherence which relates to not granting Unite collective bargaining rights.”

Unite contacted its members with a questionnaire over the summer about equal pay and possible age discrimination with the new contract which it is currently analysing.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065