‘We’ve seen the CWU fight for Royal Mail and BT members – now we want this union in our company’ say Screwfix workersUnion Matters March 15 2023
Activists are set to launch a campaign for full trade union recognition with the trade tool retail giant, following a sustained recruitment campaign at the company’s Stoke-on-Trent warehouse…
“There are around 800 workers employed in non-management processing and admin functions at the site,” says CWU field organiser Neil Singh. “Over the past year or so, with active assistance from our union’s Midland No1 branch and Midland Region, and supported by our recruitment & organising department, we’ve engaged regularly with the workforce and made steady progress.
“We’ve had lots of conversations with Screwfix workers, listened to their issues and talked about what the union can do – what we can do together. We’ve now got a significant level of membership there and three on-site reps, representing members on each of the three shifts,” Neil continued. “Last month, it was agreed among ourselves that the time was right to move towards full trade union recognition and, as the company has declined our request to make a voluntary agreement, we’re now getting ready for a statutory recognition ballot campaign.”
CWU News spoke with the reps – Dan Biddulph, Sean McGinley and Michael Powell – and asked them about their work, why they think CWU membership is growing here and what their hopes are for the period ahead.
“I’m very impressed with what CWU has done in fighting for their members in BT and Royal Mail, especially in the current climate” says Dan. “Other people working here have seen and heard about the CWU on the national and local news and I think it’s given them belief and inspiration that the CWU would also fight for our rights here.”
Dan came to this company eight years ago, having previously worked in the pottery industry – “which our area used to be famous for” – and started in the Screwfix warehouse on processing and loading roles, before moving onto his current, product data, role. Having joined the CWU during a previous recruitment campaign, Dan recently volunteered to become a rep as membership started to rise. And, along with Michael and Sean, attended a training course for new reps working in companies the union has either only recently begun working with or has not yet established a relationship with.
The course was held at the North Staffs Postal Branch premises in February and led by the region’s ULR lead Steve Croke, assisted by Fevzi Hussein from the CWU equality, education & development department.
“We worked on basic disciplinary and grievance representation,” says Dan, “and I’ve already had a couple of cases here in the past couple of weeks, so what I learned there was really useful.”
Sean McGinley also felt that the training was a positive experience and tells CWU News that, for him, “it was very interesting to meet fellow members on the same course from other companies” and that “it was good to do some of the exercises, as a team, with other people.”
Sean works in the same role as Dan, but on the opposite shift. Their daily duty hours run from 7am to 3pm and from 3pm to 11pm respectively, on a weekly rotation, he explains. “I’ve been with Screwfix eight-and-a-half years and I joined the CWU last September,” he says, and adds: “I put my name down to volunteer as a rep as soon as I joined. For me, it seemed that the CWU were actually making more progress – a lot of people here have said how they support the CWU strikes and how they want a union like that organised in here.”
Pay rates here start at a basic £10.22 per hour and range upwards from there through five different grades, Sean continues, pointing out that there are also various allowances for specific skills as well as shift premium payments. Pay here is, as everywhere, the big concern for workers, he says, “but there are several other big issues here too which we want the CWU to help with. A lot of them go back to a TUPE that happened even before I started here, when workers here were transferred from being direct employees of Screwfix to being employed by ‘Wincanton’.”
Summing up his perspective, Sean says that he is optimistic that the union can win a statutory recognition campaign at this site, saying: “The overall attitude from the shopfloor is positive. There are plenty of people who like the idea of union representation.”
Michael Powell has been working the Screwfix night shift for the past two years and tells us that he likes this life pattern – “it’s my choice,” he insists. “I start at 10pm and work though until 6am. Then when I get home I stay up for a couple of hours and once my wife has gone off to work and the kids have left for school, I go and sleep until the mid-afternoon.”
Working for the company’s facilities operation, Michael has been with the business for 13 years and gives examples of the terms and conditions grievances mentioned by Sean. “They took 10 days sick off us, and the 10-year long service bonus – £500 – was taken away three years ago,” he says, “and now, the workload’s increasing and they’ve set up three different shift-start times.”
Like many of his generation in this area, Michael is a former coal miner, having worked in Florence Colliery until it was closed down in 1994. “I started there after the big national strike,” he recalls, “but of course I do remember those days and I had family members and uncles etc all involved. They were all for the strike because Thatcher was beating us down with an iron rod.”
The decline of coal, as well as steel and of course the pottery industry, have hit this area hard. But Michael, Sean and Dan are proof that the spirit of trade unionism remains strong and all of them are determined to play their part in the growing struggle to rebuild workplace organisation and collectivism.
When asked if the union can win trade union recognition here, Michael says: “More and more people are interested now and I’m all ready for the campaign.”