JD Sports urged to rethink breaks regime by councillors

Date published: 18 October 2019

JD Sports has been urged to rethink its decision to cut shift workers’ rest breaks by councillors at a recent council meeting.

The sportswear giant has reduced the number of breaks during a typical 12-hour night shift from three to two – although the overall rest time allowed (one hour) has not changed.

More than 600 workers have lodged a grievance over the change – and Rochdale Council backed a motion on Wednesday 16 October calling on the firm to open talks with the Usdaw union with a view to ‘immediately reversing’ its decision.

After several meetings and regular union protests outside the site recently, the company has already accepted the case made by the Usdaw union, and agreed to consult with their workers again, with a view to re-instating the breaks. 

A motion moved by Councillor John Blundell at a full meeting of Rochdale council states the reduction in the number of breaks is a ‘clear contravention’ of the Health and Safety Executive’s advice.

This recommends more frequent breaks repetitive, physical work in order to avoid fatigue-related accidents.

It adds: “This council does not want to see several thousand workers at one of Rochdale’s major employers put in danger by the imposition of such an ill-judged change to terms and conditions of employment.”

JD Sports is the biggest private sector employer in Rochdale.

Whilst Councillor Blundell said he welcomed large firms creating jobs in the borough – he stressed they must provide fair working conditions.

Addressing the meeting at Rochdale Town Hall, he said: “This work must be hard enough but to make it four hours without a toilet break, no water, you are standing there you are essentially treated like a commodity. To do this is bad for people in the borough.”

The council also wants the company – whose distribution centre is based at Kingsway Business Park – to agree to Usdaw’s long-standing request for the company to enter into a trade union recognition agreement.

The motion was ultimately carried on Labour votes – but opposition parties were not convinced it was the right move.

Liberal Democrat leader Andy Kelly said he supported unions, but involving the council in every workplace dispute could end up clogging up council agendas to the detriment of other issues.

“If we pass this now, are we expected to get involved in the next one and the next one over the next 20 years because of the explosion of employers along the M62 corridor?” he said.

His Conservative counterpart, Councillor Ashley Dearnley, took a similar stance.

“Targeting a business that’s in this borough, that’s providing employment and we want to see expand is the wrong message to send out,” he said.

But Labour stood firm on the issue.

Councillor Danny Meredith said workers’ rights were an issue for the council, despite the Conservatives’ Councillor Jane Howard describing the motion as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘meddling’.

He said: “Yes, I think we should get involved with every single issue that goes on. It means that people in Rochdale – especially the people paid on that living low wage – we need to get involved and get the best for people in our society, especially our poor areas like Smallbridge and Kirkholt.”

Councillor Shakil Ahmed, who represents Kingsway ward, branded working conditions at the site ‘absolutely disgusting’.

He added: “A big, huge company that treats people like this – there are not even windows - it’s more like a prison sentence at JD Sports’ warehouse. The staff are not allowed to go for breaks, and I have had many complaints against JD Sports.

“It needs to be addressed; the union should be recognised. Where employers do recognise unions, they respect employees and performance is better. JD should learn.”

‘Disappointed’ JD Sports bosses said the matter of union recognition was not one that involved the council – but confirmed all shift patterns were to be reviewed in the new year.

A spokesman added: “As part of this review, we will take into account USDAW’s recommendation that 12 hour shift patterns are tiring for most colleagues, and explore the potential of reducing full-time 12 hour shifts down to eight hours, carried out in five shifts over the course of a seven day week, with breaks naturally aligned to this change (if) ultimately agreed.”

The firm says the ‘overwhelming consensus’ of visitors to its Kingsway site – including MPs and councillors – has been that it ‘makes a significant and positive contribution to the local community’ and points to the fact the British Safety Council has rated the distribution centre as ‘excellent’ in each of the past three years.

A member of staff at JD Sports contacted Rochdale Online to confirm that staff can take toilet breaks as required and water dispensers are available throughout the warehouse for staff to use at will.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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