Worker tells of threats to agree 7-day week

THE THREATS against Matthew Phillips were anything but subtle. His promotion would be curtailed; he would never get another pay rise; if he refused to work on Sundays his chances of finding another job could be seriously affected.

These are the claims made by Mr Phillips after being presented with a new contract by Mister Byrite, a downmarket chain of clothes shops. The contract, put before him in June 1992, stated that he would work a 39-hour week at a flat-wage rate - and that the 39 hours included Sundays.

'I realised that I would be signing away all my rights and all my Sundays,' he said yesterday. 'I said no, and, after a lot of pressure, they agreed to give me a week to think about it.'

Mr Phillips's case is being used by the Keep Sunday Special campaign to illustrate the pressures to which shop staff are being subjected in the push towards seven- day working and higher profits.

He had been working for Mister Byrite in Lewisham, south-east London, as a stores supervisor on pounds 7,000 a year for about two years when he was given his new contract. 'We were given it and told to sign within an hour,' he said.

'I was told I would never get another pay rise if I didn't sign the contract and that if I went to an industrial tribunal, other employers were unlikely to take me on.'

Mr Phillips finally resigned from Mister Byrite, but another 350 employees signed the contract. It was intended to cover workers during the Sundays running up to Christmas, but he saw it as a prelude to permanent Sunday working without overtime.

'Before Christmas 1992, we were told we would have to work late nights without extra pay,' he said. 'That was done by making us all take two days off during October. That meant they had 15 hours on everyone before anyone could claim overtime. I refused to work the Christmas overtime or Sundays because I wanted to see my friends and family. I got a written warning.'

Mister Byrite refused to discuss the Phillips' case yesterday. Mick O'Connor, the general manager, left a message to all callers saying 'no comment'.

Andrew Grimes, a spokesman for Keep Sunday Special, said: 'This illustrates the pressures that people will be subjected to.'

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