Employment Contract Changes: Learning From Asda

All Members

The media have been reporting Asda’s announcement that unless staff sign a new, less favourable employment contract by 2nd November, their employment will be terminated. The new contract increases wages to £9 per hour but removes long-service benefits, paid breaks and higher rates of pay on most Bank Holidays. Staff will be forced to accept variable shifts between 8am and 10pm and to move between departments as required.

As many as 12,000 staff could be affected and will see their employment come to an end just before Christmas if they don’t sign. A cynic would argue that Asda’s timing will exert maximum pressure on staff to accept the new terms, rather than facing unemployment just before Christmas.

The reality, as the law stands, is that if employers follow a particular procedure correctly, it can be difficult to fight proposed contract changes and subsequent dismissals. Asda will no doubt have sought extensive legal advice on its proposed action and it will be confident that dismissing staff who refuse the new terms is permissible under UK law.

Such bullish attitudes to contract changes are not unusual amongst employers large and small and we deal with cases on a regular basis.

Affinity won a major Employment Tribunal case against Lloyds Bank (then Lloyds TSB Group) following Lloyds’s decision to withhold pay increases for staff who refused to sign a new, less favourable, employment contract. Not only was Lloyds forced to compensate affected staff, a significant number have still not accepted Lloyds’s new contract terms and ultimately have benefited considerably from doing so.

Employment contract changes can be legally complex and are often highly specific: each case is different. Added to that, employees have different attitudes to particular contract changes: what might be unpalatable to one person is not necessarily unpalatable to another.

But, more often than not contract changes are designed to tip the contract in the employer’s favour in some way and strip employees of some benefit or right. In the Asda case, the pay increase will soon be consumed by inflation but the contract changes will remain as permanently poorer terms and conditions.

Advice To Members

If you’re presented with a contract change:

  1. Don’t be pressured into accepting something, whether verbally or in writing, there and then. Always take the proposed change away with you so that you have time to contact us and understand fully the potential effects of the contract change.
  2. Don’t ignore the issue! If you say nothing about a proposed contract change, your employer can argue that your silence amounted to an acceptance of the proposal. 
  3. Keep your current contract of employment safe so that you can refer to it quickly if needed. Your current contract is often the key to understanding what power the employer has to make changes. If you don’t have a copy of your contract, or you have never been given a contract by your employer, please contact Affinity’s Advice Team for further advice.

The Advice Team can be contacted 24 hours a day on 01234 716005. Alternatively, please email us at 24hours@workaffinity.co.uk.

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