Asda penalised for trying to get staff to quit union

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The Independent Online

The supermarket giant Asda has been ordered to pay £850,000 in compensation to employees for unlawfully offering them a financial inducement to give up their union rights in a damning judgment by an employment tribunal yesterday.

Some 340 employees of the stores group had been offered a 10 per cent pay increase if they agreed to give up a bargaining agreement enjoyed by their union, the GMB.

The workers, at one of Asda's huge distribution centres at Washington Tyne and Wear, overwhelmingly rejected the offer. The employees subsequently took industrial action and received a pay increase of 5 per cent.

In addition an employment tribunal at Newcastle ordered the company to pay its employees £2,500 a head in compensation, thought to be the first judgment of its kind. The tribunal found Asda was in breach of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act.

The tribunal found that authorisation for the offer had been given at "very high level" in the company. Managers at the hearing had acknowledged that there was a level of mistrust at the depot between the company and its employees.

Some of management's evidence to the tribunal was denounced as "not remotely credible" and "risible".

Portland, a public relations company, had distributed leaflets ahead of the offer being made to employees. "One cannot describe this material other than as very hostile to trade unions and highly disparaging of the process of collective bargaining," the judgment said.

Paul Kenny, the acting general secretary of the GMB said Asda had been found guilty of trying to "bribe their way to a union-free company". He added: "The Asda management need to take a clear message from this - the GMB is not going away and the union will fight on to protect our members' rights."

Iain Birrell of Thompson solicitors, which represented the union, said: "This is a brilliant decision for the union movement against a notorious anti-union employer."

Last year The Independent obtained an internal Asda document allegedly showing that managers were attempting to get rid of the union.

Under a so-called "Chip away" strategy, it set out plans for marginalising the GMB.

Although the memorandum referred to one of the group's depots, the union believes it betrayed the company's "anti-union" attitude at a senior level.

An Asda spokesman at the time said it was "utter nonsense" that the stores group was trying to withdraw recognition from the GMB.

Asda was not available for comment last night.