Sainsbury's accused of blackmail over Sunday working

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J SAINSBURY, one of the country's largest supermarket chains, was at the centre of a Sunday trading storm last night after the leak of a memorandum which warned managers that a willingness to work on Sundays could affect promotion.

Labour MPs reacted angrily, arguing that the memo was proof that their worst fears had become a reality. Eric Clarke, Labour MP for Midlothian, said: 'This is a form of blackmail. There is no doubt about that.'

The memo, from Colin Harvey, retail sales manager, warns that Sunday working will become 'a way of life' if the Sunday Trading Bill succeeds. Mr Harvey says reluctance to work on Sundays will not affect Sainsbury's assessment of an employee's potential, but he adds: 'Willingness to work on Sundays will obviously be one, although clearly not the only, factor that we have to take into account when making appointments to such stores.'

A copy of the circular was passed to the Financial Times by a manager concerned about his rights. He is quoted as saying: 'If this is indicative of the retail trade, then there really is no protection for the family rights of management within this sector.'

There were predictions last night that the issue would cause a storm at the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons next Monday. MPs have been given three options on which to vote, ranging from total deregulation to limiting large stores' opening to four Sundays before Christmas.

John Home Robertson, Labour MP for East Lothian, said: 'This is exactly what is wrong with deregulation. They have all been saying they can give assurances to the Government, yet already you have got big companies waving the big stick at their workers.'