London - Asos has been hit with new allegations and stands accused of exploitating its temporary warehouse workers in Barnsley.
The online fashion retailer stands accused of violating the “spirit if not the letter” of employment law created to protect temporary workers from being taken advantage of by inhibiting new employees pay for longer than regulations allow. According to contract documents the Guardian gained access to, new temporary warehouse employees have been given lower wages than their coworkers for a total of three months more than regulations indicate is permit. The newspaper suggests that by doing so Asos could be saving itself thousands of pounds in wages.
Asos’s temporary warehouse employees, who are managed by an external agency Transline are said to be given contracts which stipulate they will receive “pay parity with wage structure on site after six months service”, with new warehouse workers given a pay bump from 7.45 pounds an hour to 7.73 pounds. However, UK agency worker regulations state that after an employee completes the 3 months training period with the same employer in the same role, they are entitled to the same basic conditions and terms of employment as if they were directly employed by the company, in this case Asos. This include wages.
Asos accused of exploiting temporary warehouse workers
The online retailer and Transline have countered claims from the Guardian, stating that in the time the newspaper had gained access to the contracts the time period has been reduced from six months down to three months. Both companies noted that any new permanent employees joining the warehouse before changes to their policies would also have had to wait six months for an increase in pay, which meant there was no breach of employment regulations as both temporary and fixed workers had to adhere to the same terms.
"We are extremely disappointed in media reports suggesting that temporary workers are not paid equally at the site in Barnsley," said a Asos spokeswoman to FashionUnited. "This is completely untrue. In fact, all workers are paid the same rate from their first day- regardless of their temporary or permanent status. This means that we actually go further than the Agency Worker Regulation guidelines, which don't require equal pay until 12 weeks of work. Our approach is to do what is right for the employee – and in many cases that means going above and beyond what’s required by law."
The new allegations follow on from a string of accusations made by BuzzFeed and the BBC earlier this year, which accused the online fashion retailer of forcing its warehouse workers in Barnsley to work under exploitative and stressful working conditions. Previously accusations include setting too high targets for its pickers, not allocating sufficient time for water or bathroom breaks and working with an overbearing security regime. At the time MP Iain Wright, chair of the business select committee called for Asos to be included in the wider parliamentary inquiry into working practices in the UK, taking place in January.
Asos previously issued an lengthy response to the allegations made by BuzzFeed, other media outlets and the trade union GMB in October, calling them “inaccurate and misleading” and highlighting the policies in place to protect its warehouse workers. At the time Asos said it was “committed to migrating towards the living wage as determined by the Living Wage Foundation within 18 months”, adding that it was “reducing the probation period to three months from six, effective immediately.”
However the GMB Union remains unconvinced by Asos’s commitment to improve warehouse workers wages and conditions, as the latest accusations to emerge coincided with a protest mounted by the union. The protest took place outside of Asos London head office during its annual shareholder’s meeting last Thursday and is part of the union’s long-term campaign launched on the behalf of Asos’s warehouse workers which aims to put an end to poor working conditions. Protestors from the union came together in front of the Greater London House on Thursday, chanting “treat your workers with respect” on a red carpet the GMB named a “catwalk of shame.”
“We hope GMB's catwalk of shame will help spread the message about the conditions workers endure at the Asos warehouse in Barnsley,” said Neil Derrick, GMB Regional Secretary. “This is a billion pound, global, thriving company which can afford to respect the workers it built its vast empire on the backs of. Asos trumpets it's claim to produce fashion with integrity – but they don’t seem so bothered about conditions in Barnsley. Fashions may change – but failing to treat your workers with respect is never a good look.” The protest follows on from the launch of the GMB hotline for workers at the Barnsley distribution centre.
Following the protest and the AGM, bosses at the online fashion retailer were hit with a backlash from shareholders concerning proposals for their multi-million pound pay-packages. A third of shareholders (33.28 percent) voted against the company’s remuneration report for the year ending August 31, 2016, which could see chief executive officer Nick Beighton receive up to 2.5 million pounds next year in wages if he reaches his targets.
FashionUnited has contacted the GMB for additional commentary on these allegations.
Photos: Courtesy of GMB