PAY THE ‘LIVING WAGE’! – GMB to demonstrate at NEXT’s AGM

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THE GMB trade union will hold a public protest at the Annual General Meeting of NEXT in Leicester this Thursday, May15.

They will call for a living wage of £7.65 per hour and £8.80 per hour in London for 50,000 NEXT workers at over 500 stores, call centres and warehouses in the UK and Ireland.

This will be followed by further public protests, some with musician Paul Heaton, calling for a living wage outside nine NEXT stores in the UK during May and June to coincide with a national tour by Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, which the GMB is supporting.

Heaton headed up the Housemartins and together they headed up the Beautiful South in the 1980s and 1990s.

In March, NEXT reported a 12% increase in annual profits to £695m. NEXT says it expects profits in 2014 to rise by up to £770m. They said in January that they are generating more cash than can be invested in the business so they will pay a special £300m payout to shareholders.

NEXT currently pay £6.31 per hour to those aged 21 and over, £5.03 to those aged 18 to 20, £3.72 to those under 18 and £2.68 per hour to retail apprentices. This is well below a living wage of £7.65 per hour and £8.80 per hour in London.

The company also has a limit of 12.5 hours per week on jobs offered in some stores. Last month NEXT announced that some staff will share a £4m bonus in proportion to their base salaries, and staff hourly rates will also increase by 37p from June 1st.

The protest at the AGM of NEXT plc starts from 9am on Thursday, outside Leicester Marriott Hotel, Smith Way, Grove Park, Leicester LE19 1SW. The protests to be held outside city centre NEXT stores as follows:

Wednesday, May 21, Newcastle on Tyne at 11am with Paul Heaton;

Thursday, 22 May, Glasgow at 11am with Paul Heaton;

Friday, May 23, Salford at 11am;

Saturday, May 24, Leeds at 11am;

Monday, May 26, Bristol at 11am;

Thursday May 29 Sheffield at 3.30pm with Paul Heaton;

Friday, May 30, Birmingham at 3.30pm with Paul Heaton;

Saturday, May 31, Hull at 12 noon; and

Monday, June 1st, Liverpool at 11am.

GMB will shortly announce address details of the NEXT stores. The union will present an ASBO at the AGM and to store managers for failing to make work pay for Next workers. Mick Rix, GMB National Officer for retail staff, said: ‘GMB will present an ASBO to NEXT as an employer that does not face up to its social responsibilities.

‘We are asking shareholders and consumers to support diverting the special £300m payout to shareholders and spending it instead to offer jobs above the 12.5 hour maximum per week in some stores and to pay staff a living wage of £7.65 per hour and £8.80 per hour in London.

‘It is time NEXT made work pay. There has to be a stepping up of public pressure on NEXT to invest this £300m in better pay and longer hours for staff. Staff now require their meagre wages to be topped up with family tax credits and housing benefits so as to make ends meet.’

The GMB will use the tour to promote the messages that ‘Only unions make work pay’ and ‘British workers need a pay rise’. They will also highlight the problems of zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment, wage levels no-one can live on.

The union also said, incorrectly, that there is an economic recovery but ‘that has yet to impact on ordinary workers’. Rix added: ‘While the recovery under way is welcome, we have a very long way to go to climb out of the hole caused by the recession.

‘Much of the growth so far is due to demographic factors – GDP per head is still 5.7% below 2007 levels. That is the root cause of average earnings being down 13.8% in real terms since then. That is why GMB are holding protests outside the NEXT AGM and at stores as the Paul Heaton tour swings across Britain.’

Meanwhile, Usdaw has called for the abolition of the varying levels of the minimum wage, saying the adult rate should apply to all age groups to create an equal pay structure.

Delegates at last week’s Usdaw Annual Delegate Meeting voted for the abolition of the varying levels of the minimum wage.

Speaking to conference, John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, said: ‘We successfully campaigned to get the National Minimum Wage established and we should recognise that it has been one of the greatest achievements of the trade union movement in the last 30 years.

‘However, we know it isn’t the finished article. The age-related rates are unfair and unjust. Most young workers have the same roles and responsibilities as adult workers. It is unfair to pay young workers less.

‘As part of our campaigning for equal pay for young workers, we successfully negotiated an end to youth rates in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op. Usdaw believes that all young workers should have the right to be paid the full rate of the national minimum wage.’

• GMB will give evidence to the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca on Tuesday, May 13.

The Committee will be hearing from trade unions, together with the Chairman and Chief Executive of Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca plc.

Allan Black, GMB National Officer, said: ‘I welcome the opportunity to explain to this important Parliamentary Committee the concerns we have should Pfizer make a bid, hostile or otherwise, which leads to them taking ownership of AstraZeneca.

‘We will be trying to press the Committee to the view that, based on their dubious track record, Pfizer is not to be trusted with this national asset either in terms of manufacturing or in terms of crucial research and development.’

• Shareholders in National Express Group PLC are being asked to back a resolution at its AGM in Birmingham on Wednesday, May 14, that would fundamentally improve the company’s employment policies and practices.

Shareholders are being asked to back a group of local authority pension funds, the American Teamsters union and more than 100 individual investors who sponsored the resolution. They are calling on the board to finally address ‘systemic and longstanding’ issues in the way it treats its staff in North America.

The three local authority pension funds are the Greater Manchester pension fund – which holds a 2.5% stake in the National Express Group – Islington, and Nottinghamshire County Council. They are co-sponsoring a resolution drawn up by the Teamsters that calls for changes to the UK-listed firm’s policies.

The group employs more than 35,000 staff worldwide. It calls for the company’s board to ‘expand the role and responsibilities of its safety and environment committee’ and adopt a ‘meaningful and enforceable’ human rights policy.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: ‘We welcome the intervention of the local authority pension funds in raising the entrenched anti-employee attitudes in the US.

‘The company has been the recipient of many US National Labour Relations Board complaints and charges that raised concerns about unlawful terminations, surveillance, retribution and disparate treatment of its employees who supported unions.’