It has recently hit the headlines that the supermarket giant Asda, are attempting to enforce changes to the employment contract it has with thousands of its staff. Reports are saying that 12,000 members of staff have to agree to contract 6 or risk losing their jobs at the end of their contracts, in early November. Contract 6 involves staff losing paid breaks and Bank Holidays off in exchange for a pay increase to £9 an hour. It appears that many of Asda’s staff are unhappy with the changes, especially on the run up to Christmas as they may now have to work Christmas Bank Holidays. A spokesman for the supermarket chain has said that the changes will help ‘adapt to the demands of the highly competitive retail industry’. As Bank Holidays are often extremely busy shopping days, it may be considered as understandable for the supermarket to take this view but with so many upset members of staff, can they actually enforce the change of contract.
A contract of employment is a legally binding agreement between an individual and their employer. It will set out the employee’s duties, responsibilities, rights, and conditions of employment. The legal parts are called the ‘terms’ of the contract. The employer should make it clear as to which parts are legally binding. The contract terms could be written in a contract, statement of employment, employee handbook or required by law. Such as, paying the national minimum wage or holiday entitlement. You may have agreements negotiated between trade unions or staff associations and employers, known as collective agreements. These agreements allow negotiations of the terms and conditions, like pay or working hours. There are also implied terms which are automatically part of the contract even if they are not written down. Such as, not stealing from your employer, having something essential for your job roll (driving license), or your employer providing a safe working environment.
The employer must give a written statement of employment within two months of the start of employment. A written statement must include the business’s name, employee’s name and job title. As well as, pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement and where the employee will be working. The statement must also show how long the contract of employment is expected to last, notice periods, pensions, grievance policy’s, and collective agreements.
When it comes to changing an employment contract, usually the employer and employee or representatives, need to both agree to any changes. The terms of these negotiations will be set out in the collective agreements. Once a change is agreed, the terms of employment (written statement) must be updated and staff need to be informed of the changes, in writing, within a month of the changes starting. Employers must also write to inform their staff of any changes to the collective agreements. If it is not a change to the terms of the written statement, then an employer should tell their staff where to find the information about the change. However, there may be a flexibility clause in the terms of a contract which gives the employer the right to change some of the conditions of employment, as long as it is reasonable.
As for rest breaks, staff have the right to one uninterrupted twenty-minute break during their shift, if they work more than six hours a day. This could be a lunch break and should be taken in one go, roughly in the middle of the shift. Staff are allowed to take it away from where they work and it does not count as a break if the employer tells the employee, that they have to go back to work before the break is over. The break does not have to be paid. Note that there are some exceptions to rest breaks which are beyond the scope of this article.
This shows that Asda does have the right to negotiate changes, surrounding breaks and pay, through the collective agreements, and they may even have flexibility clauses. When it comes to staff losing their jobs, Asda may just let the contracts come to their natural end and then re-hire onto the new contract 6. This will no doubt seem unfair to many but the news about these contract changes may alter people’s opinions on what it is like to work for the supermarket giant.
If you have any concerns about your contract of employment or would even like employment contracts drafted, please get in touch and we will happily talk through things at no cost and then set out fixed fees for drafting or further advice.
Written by Samuel Killoran who is a law student at Solent University