With retail giant, Asda, hitting the headlines recently in respect of their proposed contractual changes, it is important to consider the legal implications surrounding the same.
Despite the new “contract 6” looking to increase the base pay of Asda staff, the GMB Union have suggested that 93% of its members oppose the contract. This appears to be due to the contract introducing the requirement of staff to work more flexible hours, including working bank holidays and introducing unpaid breaks.
It is suggested that the aim is to bring all staff onto the same contract to ensure consistency, fairness and provide customer service in line with retail demand. However, it is clear that some employees feel that this change is being forced upon them rather than them agreeing on a voluntary basis.
It is necessary for Asda to have their employees agree to the changes to the contract. If an employer makes a change to an employee’s contract without getting agreement employees may:
- Have the right to refuse to work under the new conditions;
- Work under protest (e.g. not accept the new terms) and treat the change as a breach of contract; or
- Chose to resign. In this circumstance, depending on the employee’s length of service, they may be entitled to bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal.
While there is no legal requirement for employees to be paid for their breaks (it all depends upon their contract), any proposed and accepted changes regarding breaks must also be in line with current UK legislation. The Working Time Regulations 1998 dictate that, in general, workers are entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when their daily working time is more than six hours. This break should be in working time and should not be taken at the start, or at the end, of the working day. The regulations also go onto stipulate daily and weekly rest but, again, these can be varied depending upon the employee’s contract of employment in light of their usual working pattern.
While there is clearly an argument for Asda requiring flexibility from their employees in light of the retail demands, the protest is a rhetoric to all employers to ensure they fully consult with all staff affected by proposed contractual changes, or face the possible legal (and public) backlash.