'Communist' jibe by JJB founder incites strike

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The Independent Online

David Whelan, the founder of JJB Sports, has branded union officials "Communists" during pay talks with the retailer's depot workers, provoking a two-day strike in the group's central warehouse.

Talks between the GMB union and JJB broke down after Mr Whelan took over the negotiations from Tom Knight, the group's chief executive. Mr Whelan, who is the group's biggest shareholder, gave up the chairmanship last year but stayed on the board in an executive role. He scotched an agreement between Mr Knight and the GMB that would have increased the basic wage and given all workers access to a bonus scheme.

A spokesman for the GMB said there was no prospect of a resolution because Mr Whelan had left last Sunday for a three-week holiday with his family in Barbados. "He said the pay system we were looking at was the equivalent of Communism. We had reached an agreement with Mr Knight, but Mr Whelan stepped in and turned over the whole applecart... He's out of the country, so there's no way there's going to be any talks," the union official said.

A JJB spokeswoman said the GMB was being "misleading", adding: "You're not going to pay everyone the same if they're doing different jobs and have different experience."

All 266 GMB members at JJB's Wigan depot are due to strike from next Tuesday. Mr Whelan offered a 3 per cent flat pay increase, which GMB members rejected.