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Asda, Britain's second largest supermarket chain owned by US giant Walmart, has struck a deal with the Unite union to pay temporary workers at the same levels as permanent workers, The Times reports.
The move comes before the European Union's so-called Agency Workers' Directive (AWD) takes effect in late 2011. Unite said that 6,000 workers, mostly migrants, would win improved pay under the agreement, which covers 29 leading suppliers. The union said that Asda would liaise with suppliers and temporary employment agencies to plug the 2.4 million Pounds needed to cover the extra pay.
The move will be watched by other supermarket chains which share the same or similar suppliers. Asda's pre-emptive strike may become the first of many.
An Asda spokesman said "following our own investigation into working conditions in the meat sector, we agreed with Unite that agency workers who do the same work as permanent workers should receive equal pay, and that agency work should not be used as a means of preventing them from accessing the same rights as permanent workers."
The British Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the AWD will cost the British economy an extra 1.5 billion Pounds per year.
Anne Fairweather, head of public policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said "agency workers play a valuable role in ensuring that meat and poultry is prepared and ready for sale in a fluctuating market place. The REC fully supports that these workers are recognised and duly rewarded for their work, but it is the responsibility of supermarkets, such as Asda, to ensure that there is enough money in the supply chain if equal treatment in terms of pay, is to be reached."
"The REC is disappointed that the investigation by Asda and Unite has taken place without the consultation of bodies that represent agencies in the supply chain, such as the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. We would encourage them to consult and involve all parties moving forward, to ensure that their proposals are workable in practice."