Hundreds of employees at one of Boohoo Group’s massive warehouses in Northamptonshire, England, are up in arms over what they say are the “imposition” of “unconscionable” new shift demands.
Unite, one of Britain’s largest trade unions, said last week that 200 “low-paid” warehouse workers who work for the e-tail juggernaut in the village of Crick have filed a collective grievance to protest the potential shift changes, which it says will leave the mostly female workforce with only one weekend off every five weeks. The move will also leave employees with “fragmented” single days off, it said.
“The shift patterns proposed for Boohoo’s Crick warehouse are completely unacceptable in a modern society,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. She said that workers lodged the grievance after the PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal owner “refused to listen” to their concerns during what they described as a “sham” consultation process.
“People are not machines and deserve to able to spend time with their families, rest and have a life outside of work,” she added.
Boohoo’s decision is a “serious step backward” for a company whose “reputation was left in tatters” over the “terrible treatment” of workers just a few years ago, Graham added, alluding to reports that Boohoo suppliers in Leicester, just 40 miles away, were underpaying and overworking their employees. The scrutiny led the fashion juggernaut to cut ties with hundreds of contractors and set up a model factory as part of a so-called Agenda for Change.
“Unite demands that Boohoo apply the same freedom for association and collective bargaining rights to their directly employed workers at Crick that they say they expect for the employees of their third-party garment producers and suppliers,” Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said. “Boohoo must allow Unite access to the Crick site to organize and represent workers to negotiate ethical and fair shift patterns.”
Boohoo, which forecast a drop in revenue this year, took issue with several of Unite’s statements. The proposed shift change, which is undergoing a 45-day consultation will be for work on a “three-on/three-off” basis, meaning workers will get three weekends off for every three weekends worked, it said. The employees at the warehouse are also split “broadly equally” by gender: 54 percent female and 46 percent male. And rather than being “low-paid,” employees are currently being paid 10.71 pounds ($13.30), soon to be 11.25 pounds ($13.97), per hour for a day shift and 12.24 pounds ($15.20), soon to be 12.85 pounds ($15.97) for a night one, or “above the living wage.” The United Kingdom’s minimum wage is 10.42 pounds ($12.94) for workers over the age of 23.
“To ensure the long-term strength of our operations, we are proposing to amend shift patterns at our [Northhamptonshire] warehouse,” said a spokesperson for the company, which also owns Debenham’s and Karen Millen. “We are conducting a consultation on the proposed change, throughout which employees’ views are aired and considered in the appropriate forum. As a business, we do not formally recognize a union, but our employees are free to join a union individually.”
Still, Boohoo has “long resisted” any dialogue with unions in its U.K. warehouses despite “explicit requests” from the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, said Dominique Muller, policy director at Labour Behind the Label, a worker advocacy group based in Bristol.
“It’s not very surprising to see the Boohoo introducing shift changes that only work for the company and not the works,” she said. “Boohoo remains secretive about its actual business practices and remains behind the times for a big retailer. The news that it is ‘consulting’ with workers suggests it is using the classic management mechanism to make it seem like workers have a say while not recognizing the only legal body that can represent the workers: a union.”
Unite’s complaint follows a Times report in November that alleged “grueling targets, inadequate training and ill-fitting safety equipment” at Boohoo’s warehouse in Burnley in north England. Workers were forced to walk the equivalent of a half-marathon per shift amid blistering temperatures, the undercover investigation found. Pakistani workers were reportedly told by a white marshal to toil in the hottest area of the facility while dispatching white staff to a cooler one. Workers also complained of sexual harassment.
But the Kourtney Kardashian Barker collaborator denies that the “picture painted is reflective of the working environment at our Burnley warehouse.” It said that “making sure our people are safe and comfortable in their workplace is our highest priority” and that its employee engagement staff say that workers are “happy with their working environment, feel valued and feel listened to.”
At an event in London in February, a panel featuring only Boohoo representatives was set upon by protestors decrying the conversation’s “ethical” and “collaborative” theme. They were quickly escorted away by security officers.
Back in Crick, Graham said that Unite will continue standing up for the retailer’s workers.
“Unite defends our members’ jobs, pay and conditions to the hilt and Boohoo’s Crick workforce will be receiving their union’s complete support in their fight against these unconscionable shift demands,” she said.