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  • "Workers strike as Argos tightens the screws

    Dave Murray spoke to Unite members at Argos's Basildon depot

    Unite union members at Argos are taking strike action against their employer's decision to end their final salary pension scheme.

    The scheme was closed to new entrants some years ago, and, having closed the scheme the company is now leaning on its workers to join a new one which does not offer a pension based on earnings, but works as a savings scheme, leaving retired workers at the mercy of the financial services industry at the point of their retirement.

    The union is demanding a compensation package for Argos workers who are affected by the shutdown.

    The attack on pensions is just the latest move by Argos to tighten the screws on its workers. The Unite union won recognition at the Basildon depot 12 years ago, but only after a long campaign by its members, who faced down management threats of dismissal in order to organise a majority of workers.

    Since then, the bosses have systematically tried to undercut wages and undermine the union by using agency staff wherever possible; according to management, 62% of the Basildon workforce are 'temps' employed on lower wage rates through an agency.

    Agency assault on workers' rights

    In a further assault on the idea of 'the rate for the job' Argos now uses two separate agencies, Transline and Single Resource, paying workers different rates depending on which agency supplies them.

    At best agency workers get a six-month contract, with a requirement that they must be prepared to work 20 out of 24 Sundays.

    All workers are subject to relentless pressure to cut down 'idle time' and meet 'Key Productivity Indicators'; they face a ruthless response if they are forced to take sick leave.

    In fairness, not all Argos employees are under the cosh. Chief executive Terry Duddy 'earned' £1.1 million last year. His pension fund is worth £4 million and will pay out £187,000 a year on retirement.

    'Hard luck' story

    His management underlings in Basildon have made it clear that in the New Year they intend to recruit permanent staff at below the current union rate, claiming lack of profitability in the face of stiff competition from online stores - like all bosses, they are always ready with a 'hard luck' story.

    In reality the dispute is part of a concerted attack by employers in both the public and private sector on the hard won wages and conditions of workers everywhere.

    The strike runs for four days from Wednesday 19 September. There will be pickets at distribution depots, and the union will be leafleting Argos stores to explain to customers what a shoddy deal Argos gives its employees.

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Argos workers strike in Bridgwater over pension row

Workers support picketers at Bridgwater’s Argos distribution centre over pension strike

Workers support picketers at Bridgwater’s Argos distribution centre over pension strike

First published in News Bridgwater Mercury: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by

CROWDS of workers at Bridgwater’s Argos distribution centre have gone on a four-day strike following a row over pensions.

Argos is closing its Group Final Salary Pension Scheme in favour of one linked to share prices and profits, which Unite workers fear would deprive them of thousands of pounds upon retirement.

The Mercury met with warehouse operatives and six official picketers at the centre yesterday, one of four depots involved in strike action. The picketers went on strike in the early hours of yesterday morning and will continue until 6am on Monday (September 24).

Dorothy Fogg, regional officer for Unite, told the Mercury: “Argos is giving different levels of pension benefit. The further up the management tree, the better the pension will be.

“Workers feel they are missing out quite a bit. Many work four days and have four days off. Those that were assigned to work at the time of the strike have sacrificed their pay in order to encourage their employer to rethink negotiations.

“We are very willing to talk it out, as you can never talk too much when people’s finances are at stake.”

An argos operative who did not wish to be named said talks about the pension scheme broke down on Tuesday and picketers will be approaching delivery drivers with leaflets letting them know what was going on.

They added: “We’ve got around 40 to 45 supporters here today. I’m confident this action will lead to further negotiations. This is our last option.

“The Final Salary, which was gold-plated, has been replaced with a money purchase scheme which equates to around 50% of what we would have got before. It encourages staff to buy into the pension scheme and gives managers a higher proportion in pensions.”

A spokesman for Home Retail Group, which sells products under Argos and Homebase, said it was currently engaged in individual consultation with colleagues from the Bridgwater centre, following five months of collective consultation.

He described the new pension arrangements as ‘competitive’, adding: “Despite only 30% of union members voting in favour of industrial action, Unite have decided to proceed with strike action.

“This action will only impact a proportion of our distribution network and stores are unaffected. We have a range of contingency measures to draw on and we are committed to ensuring that there is no disruption for our customers.”

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