On December 6th 2016, Kumaran Bose will be meeting a number of MPs (including shadow ministers) to discuss his recent sacking by Samworth Brothers, a company known for it’s famous household brands, such as Ginsters and Soreen. He worked for Samworth Brothers for twelve years, with an unblemished work record.
Kumaran started out with the company as a shop floor worker, but his skills and qualities, including a strong work ethic and ability to communicate effectively were quickly noticed by his employer. In a relatively short period, he was promoted to the role of Team Leader.
However, everything changed for Kumaran after the Conservative government introduced it’s much heralded ‘living wage’ in April 2016. Like many other employers, Samworth Brothers decided to dodge the minor pay increase for those over the age of twenty-five by making their workforce fund it themselves.
As the company set out it’s agenda of slashing certain contractual terms that the workforce had, such as paid break-times, overtime rates and shift premiums, many workers at the site felt that the changes being proposed were unfair, especially as it was widely known that the company’s profits for the year were set to soar. The workers felt that they were being bullied into accepting the changes, with many being fearful about the detrimental effect that the changes would have on their ability to provide for themselves and their families. They were worried about how they would pay for their rent, food and clothes; the basics that a real living wage should be able to cover.
As a result, a number of employees approached Kumaran for guidance, so in his role as Team Leader, he raised the workers’ concerns and asked searching questions to CEOs, during company briefings. Kumaran outlined the unfairness and the impact of cuts to workers pay, and pointed to the fact that it was only shop floor workers and team leaders who faced cuts to their pay and conditions. Unfortunately, the company’s response was that due to the introduction of the ‘living wage’, it had no option but to make the changes.
Feeling that they were running out of options, the workforce turned to the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and met with representatives, who offered support and assistance. Consequently, hundreds of them joined the Union. However, despite many requests from employees and approaches from the BFAWU itself, a collective agreement and recognition of the BFAWU has always been resisted by Samworth Brothers, who state that they have a ‘works council’ that fully reflects the views and concerns of it’s workforce. This seemed to fly in the face of what was being told to Union Officials by employees, who stated quite clearly that they felt isolated, with their concerns being either unheard, or ignored. This was confirmed, as hundreds of workers started to attend public meetings arranged by the BFAWU, in order for employees at Samworth Brothers to raise issues and express concerns.
At this time, some of the media had picked up on the impact of the living wage and the subsequent cuts to terms and conditions that many low paid workers were facing in the UK. Although a good number of other large and profitable companies were using the same approach, journalists targeted Samworth Brothers, as they had been made aware of the company’s proposals and resulting unrest at the site. The management decided that Kumaran was responsible for the company being ‘named and shamed’, and as they regarded him as the person responsible for organising the BFAWU at the site, he was suspended from work. At his first disciplinary hearing, the initial reasons for Kumaran’s suspension were dropped, as they were based on false allegations. However, the company then changed tack by accusing him of a breach of confidentiality, despite there being no convincing evidence to back-up this claim. Kumaran’s role within the BFAWU was referenced on numerous occasions and he was told that he should cease his opposition to the contract changes. Kumaran was ultimately dismissed from Samworth Brothers and has since found it virtually impossible to find employment, due to the significant local media interest into his plight. As we move to the festive season, Kumaran faces a very difficult Christmas period, which will have a huge impact on both him and his family.
The meeting with MPs, is to discuss how the lack of protection given to workers’ terms and conditions has left them vulnerable to unscrupulous employers seeking to avoid paying the living wage. Rather than boost the incomes of low paid workers, the living wage has actually resulted in pay cuts for millions of them. The shocking state of the economy was finally exposed during the government’s recent autumn statement and it is now glaringly obvious that the drop in UK productivity is linked to the collapse of workers’ morale. This itself, is largely driven by certain employers and wealthy corporations who continue to subsidise and boost their profits at the expense of their workers.
It's shameful, that a family man can be sacked for highlighting the unfairness of a multi-million pound business cutting it’s workers’ wages. Even more incredible, is that in 21stcentury Britain, you can face the sack for joining and organising a Trade Union by an employer that claims to have a Christian ethos and states that it acts in it’s employees best interests, yet is afraid of meeting and working with them as a collective entity.
Ian Hodson (National President)