Quakers urged to stand by strikers

Workers accuse the company of betraying its Quaker roots

Quakers have been urged to stand by workers at Clarks shoe company who have been striking for weeks. The workers from Clarks’ main distribution centre in Street, Somerset, have accused the 200-year-old shoemaker of betraying its Quaker roots by demanding that employees accept a significant pay cut or face the sack. The brand was founded by two Quaker brothers in 1825.

David Chapple, secretary of Mendip Trades Union Council, claimed that the firm is seeking to cut wages by almost fifteen per cent from the average of £11.16 an hour to £9.50 an hour by using controversial fire and rehire tactics. He claimed that maternity pay and holiday pay have also been cut, and paid breaks have been scrapped.

‘It is fire and rehire,’ he told the Friend. ‘Individual consultations are going on. They are expecting workers to go in and say whether they want to have a job or not [at the reduced rate]. Union reps are allowed in with them. The Clarks stated deadline is 22nd of January by which time they want to decide who to sack and who to rehire on £9.50 an hour.’

Many local people are supporting the strikes and have sent messages of solidarity to the workers. This weekend there was a well-attended march through Street.

David Chapple urged Friends to get involved: ‘If any Quaker organisations could regionally or nationally put out media statements that would really help us, or if any could attend the marches.’

Speaking in The Guardian, Trevor Stephens, who has worked at the warehouse for seventeen years, said that the actions by LionRock Capital – which now owns Clarks – were especially shocking, given the history. ‘The Clark brothers were ahead of their time in looking after their staff. They built houses, schools and even a swimming pool here in Street. But [Clarks] are bullying us into accepting lower wages. It is destroying lives. It’s destroying families.’

Clarks said the pandemic had led to turnover dropping by forty-four per cent and record losses of £180 million last year. It said: ‘Clarks did not undertake this lightly, but the proposals are part of a company-wide plan to secure future viability, with a view to protecting over 4,000 jobs in the UK.’

It added that terminating contracts on current terms and offering re-engagement on new terms would be ‘the very last resort’. It said the changes would mean more than half of the workers at the distribution centre would get a pay rise to £9.50 an hour. It said affected workers would be protected from any pay reduction until 2023 by top-up payments.

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