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Barbour Workers Strike Over Forced New Contract

J Barbour and Sons Ltd, an English luxury brand that makes the famous waxed jackets and Wellington boots, has gone from making jackets for fishermen to being a fashion brand worn by royalty.

However, the brand is now locked in a bitter dispute with its workers over what unions claim are forced changes to staff contracts, which includes the removal of the unsocial hours payment and the introduction of a requirement to work until 11 p.m. Barbour is facing a strike action involving over 100 employees in the North East.

The company made profits last year of 21.5 million pounds ($33.1 million) from a total of 152 million pounds ($234.1 million) around the globe, as demand spiked after royals like Kate Middleton and celebrities were continuously spotted wearing the jackets.

Unite union, which represents the workers, says Barbour staff have been told to sign up to a change of contract, or risk getting fired. The employees now plan to strike every morning from Jan. 5-Jan. 30, according to the Daily Mail.

The strike follows a six day stoppage last month involving 134 of its 600 North East workers over the dispute which centers on the firm’s warehouses in Wardley, Gateshead.

Fazia Hussain-Brown, Unite regional officer, explained that the company’s “sign or be sacked” ultimatum is “bullying and anti-family.” She said, “Many of the workers struggling to get by on less than the living wage are the sole bread-winner and have family or caring responsibilities. For a company that prides itself on ‘family values’ to seek to railroad through cuts and unsocial changes to their contracts is hypocrisy of the highest order.”

Hussain-Brown added, “The company should not underestimate the resolve of the workforce nor the impact that four weeks of strike action will have on supplies. Barbour management need to live up to the company’s ‘family- friendly’ values and negotiate a fair deal for its workforce.”

She concluded on the issue, “We have been in consultation with the union since May 2014 and we feel we have done everything possible to work with the union and our employees to alleviate their concerns. The introduction of new shift patterns includes a substantial pay increase and standard working hours on a Monday-to- Friday basis.”

The jackets are sold at prestigious stores including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis. The Daily Mail reported that Brenda Readman-Bell, Barbour’s group finance and IT director, has said the company has “done everything” to work with the union.