Clarks staff in Somerset on strike over 'firing and rehiring' at Street warehouse

  • Watch: Employees on the picket line explain why they are on strike

More than 100 Clarks employees in Somerset are in their second week of strike action over the firm's so-called 'fire and rehire' policy.

Workers at the Westway distribution warehouse in Street argue the shoe giant is attempting to fire and rehire their workforce on less favourable terms and conditions.

The firm says the changes are being made to secure the future of the company after it was hit hard by the pandemic as well as ensuring "fairness" for its employees.

But some staff disagree with proposed changes to staff pay - saying it should not be reduced for people who have worked at the warehouse for many years.

The strike began on Monday 4 October, when workers walked out of the Westway warehouse used by Clarks.

Speaking to ITV News West Country, employees said their main grievance is what they say is a 'fire and rehire' policy.

One striker said: "We are willing to talk. I don't think we should lose our pay, because we've worked hard - I've worked 34 years for what I've got, and it's not a great deal.

"I'm a warehouse worker", he added. "I'm not making millions, or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. I'm not."

A third employee on strike in Street said: "The terms and conditions that they're trying to imply and put onto us are absolutely awful.

"We've got people who can't afford their properties, can't afford to live, can't afford to do day-to-day living - and the management in here have said we need to take a lifestyle change.

The general secretary of the Community trade union, which is representing workers, Roy Rickhuss CBE said members have been left with "no choice" but to go on strike.

'Companies should know better than to behave in this way'

Jacob-Rees Mogg has represented the former seat of North East Somerset since 2010.

Clarks' was taken over by Hong Kong-based private equity firm LionRock Capital in March this year, and the company's new approach of dismissing staff and renegotiating new contracts with them has been widely criticised.

North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg condemned the practice in Parliament earlier this year, telling the House of Commons: "Employers threatening to fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic are doing something that is wrong and decent employers do not do.

"Companies should know better than to behave in this way. All companies operate best when their employees are working there with enthusiasm."

'We are truly grateful for employees contributions'

Many of the employees on strike have worked at the Clarks warehouse in Street for decades.

Clarks says the changes would see a pay rise for more than half of Westway employees, with salaries rising to £9.50 an hour - a rate endorsed by the Real Living Wage Foundation.

The firm said the proposals would see allowances introduced and no change to holiday entitlement.

Clarks says it will commit to working with individual employees who are concerned about a drop in income to "find solutions" which may include working extra hours.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Clarks said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a "significant" effect on the company with revenue dropping by nearly half resulting in "record losses".

They added: "The company has needed to review all its operations, including Westway, leaving no stone unturned in every part of the business to ensure the long-term future of the company.

The employees have entered their second week on strike, since leaving work on Monday 4 October.

"We are not singling out Westway employees - all our employees have been affected over the last year.'

They said more than 98% of UK staff have accepted its new terms and conditions.

"For historical reasons, Westway has a two-tier workforce with staff doing the same jobs working side by side on different rates of pay and terms," they added.

The spokesperson said Clarks is "disappointed" union members voted for industrial action, adding the changes are about the "future" and "sustainability" of the company as well as "fairness'.

They said: "Those employed many years ago have significantly better terms than their colleagues (roughly half of employees) which is unsustainable for us as a business and negatively impacts morale, recruitment and retention.

"Nearly 30% of Westway employees have so far accepted the new terms and conditions, and we remain hopeful for a constructive conclusion in due course,” they added.