Sacking triggers new strike threat at JJB

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Britain's biggest sports retailer was threatened with an indefinite walk-out yesterday after management sacked a strike leader.

Officials of the GMB general union warned JJB Sports yesterday that if the shop steward was not reinstated there would be an all-out stoppage at the company's main warehouse in Wigan. Union officials were hoping to meet the chief executive Tim Knight today and persuade him to rescind the decision. The GMB is accusing the company of reneging on a "no-victimising" clause in a deal which ended industrial action over pay this month.

One of the leaders of the wage dispute was Chris Riley, a shop steward, who was fired on Tuesday for "gross misconduct" for allegedly using threatening behaviour to a non-union colleague.

In the wake of the strike ballot which launched the stoppages over pay, the shop steward was said to have told a fellow worker, who was also a first-aider, that he would need his first aid skills when union members were on picket duty.

Sandra Blight, a GMB organiser, argued that the comment amounted to no more than "banter"' and that non-union members had made far more serious threats against strikers.

The union claims that the decision to sack Mr Riley was taken by David Whelan, the founder of the company and a major shareholder, while Mr Knight was away on business. GMB officials also claim Mr Whelan intervened in the pay dispute before the industrial action began and scuppered an agreement that could have avoided it. Ms Blight said: "There is clearly a power struggle going on and we have two jockeys on the horse. This has had disastrous consequences for the business and for our members."

Mr Riley had remained suspended throughout the recent industrial action but played an active part in leading the walk-out. The union understood that no action would be taken against him or other employee representatives because of their activities during the strike. GMB officials had also agreed not to pursue complaints against managers and non-union members.

Ms Blight claimed that Mr Whelan had actively intervened to ensure that the shop steward was dismissed. "It is absolutely appalling. It is vindictive and clear that the decision came from above," she said.

The company refused to comment.