More than 70 Barbour employees have begun a month-long walkout that could affect deliveries to major retailers, after trade union negotiations over planned changes to their contracts collapsed.
The Unite union launched an initial strike on December 17 to 23, after it was claimed Barbour offered the team at its Gateshead distribution warehouse a new contract requiring them to work until 11pm from March 2015 without unsocial pay, on what the union referred to as a “sign or be sacked” basis.
Talks held in an attempt to avoid any further action failed, leading the union to declare a second round of industrial action commencing on January 5.
Unite official Fazia Hussain-Brown told Drapers: “The last bus [from the warehouse] leaves the area at 10:30pm, meaning staff working till 11pm will have to walk home in the dark as many do not drive.”
According to Hussain-Brown, the response of Barbour management to one 51-year-old worker concerned about walking home alone was to jokingly offer to pay for jiu-jitsu self-defence lessons.
Barbour responded by saying under the new terms staff will only work until 10:30pm and a shuttle bus to local running public transport will be provided.
Unite said it asked Barbour to keep its day staff, but also run a night shift with 20% unsocial pay offered; however, this proposal was rejected.
Barbour managing director Steve Buck said staff were notified of the changes to shift patterns - which were needed to meet expanding customer demand - in May and offered a 10% pay increase. He added many employees had been “supportive” of the plans.
“It is hugely regrettable that this small number of union members have decided to take this divisive action and we will continue to work hard to resolve this during the consultation period,” he added.
As reported by Drapers last week, Unite believes Barbour’s deliveries into stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis will be hit by the action.
Buck responded: “The remainder of our warehouse staff are working hard to maintain deliveries to our customers to minimise any disruption and to continue to deliver the high standard of service that our customers expect.”
A picket line of about 50 individuals are preparing to march on the brand’s headquarters, Barbour House in South Shields, Tyne & Wear, on Friday. Staff at Barbour House are not taking part in the strike.
“The marchers plan to deliver a petition to Dame Margaret Barbour requesting she take over negotiations. They were due to be joined by Labour MPs Emma Lewell-Buck, who represents South Shields, and Stephen Hepburn from the nearby Jarrow constituency.
Hussain-Brown said talks are unlikely to resume before the end of the action on January 30, when employees will be forced to decide whether to return to work.
Mark Watson, employment partner at business law firm Fox Williams, said Barbour could face unfair dismissal claims if it fires staff who fail to resume their post. However, he said the outcome would depend on whether the decision to change working hours is profit-related or relates to good business reasons.
Barbour employs about 600 people in the Northeast. It posted sales of £152m last year with a profit of £21.5m.