JOINT STATEMENT BY TRADE UNIONISTS
Reinstate trade unionist Richie Venton and the IKEA worker’s conditions he is defending
As trade unionists with experience and responsibility across a range of employment sectors we deplore the sacking of the elected USDAW shop steward and convener at IKEA Braehead, Richie Venton, for simply standing up for workers’ health and lives in the midst of the worst killer pandemic in a century.
This is the first case in Scotland of a union activist being sacked for taking action in defence of workers from the threat posed by Covid-19, and we are determined to overturn this gross injustice and ensure that this can never happen again. We thus demand Richie’s immediate reinstatement to his job and to the union position members elected him to.
Richie is known to us as a principled, lifelong trade unionist and campaigner for workers’ rights, widely respected for his dedication to the rights of fellow workers and acts of solidarity with others over many years. He has been sacked by the multi-national IKEA – the richest furniture company on the planet – for opposing the removal of full wages from workers in self-isolation or sick with Covid-19. He warned longstanding employees that company plans would mean many being excluded from the company sick benefit scheme. He pointed out the risk of members resorting to work despite having symptoms – because they could not afford to be off sick on £95-a-week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
He raised concerns with employees as he had with management: that financial hardship would endanger spreading the virus and threaten the lives of workers and shoppers.
Evidence of increasing transmission is a major problem across different workplaces and dangerous clusters of virus outbreak are found in range of occupational settings, including care homes, poultry and meat plants, factories and offices*. Workers should not have to choose between below subsistence £95 SSP and endangering the lives of themselves and others.
Under these unprecedented circumstances they should be guaranteed their average wage whilst off sick or in self-isolation, in accordance with government health regulations. That is what we believe to be required to implement the First Minister’s declaration that no worker should be forced back to work.
We note with incredulity that since suspending, silencing and then sacking Richie as the elected union representative, IKEA have implemented several attacks on the conditions of workers he has been elected to represent. These include forcing employees to book a full year’s holidays a year in advance, causing untold pressure on families; and a drastically inferior sickness and absence policy. Under this policy workers will be excluded entirely from company sick benefit (receiving only £95 SSP) on the third occasion they are off sick in 12 months, or after a total of 10 days off in a single year. This is a brutal reduction in entitlements that excludes more employees from a reasonable income whilst sick, makes illness an unaffordable option and risks further endangering the health and lives of their work colleagues.
We are concerned that IKEA and other employers are attacking workers’ wages, jobs and sick pay under cover of the Coronavirus crisis at a time when the lives and wellbeing of workers and their families should be prioritised. That a multimillion pound corporation has sacked an employee with 12 year’s service for doing what he has the right and indeed responsibility to do as an elected trade union official is shameful. By sacking Mr Venton, the employers have clearly victimised a workers’ representative for daring to stand up for workers’ rights and inform employees of employers’ detrimental plans which could fundamentally endanger their health.
We condemn this blatant trade union victimisation by IKEA and the dangerous cuts to workers’ rights that have followed the sacking of Richie Venton. His immediate reinstatement is a most necessary step by IKEA at this time where robust health and safety measures and protection of those off sick or in self-isolation are an urgent priority. These measures should include receipt of adequate wages that allow them to stay at home and their right to have concerns raised by their elected worker representatives without victimisation.
We demand, therefore, that IKEA reinstate Richie Venton to his job and union position; reverse their cuts to sick workers’ wages; and avoid a trade union organised boycott. We offer our fullest solidarity to any action the IKEA workers decide upon to win decent conditions for themselves and reinstatement of their elected union representative.