STRIKING workers took part in a rally at a South Tyneside clothing factory today in a row over their employment contracts.
More than 60 employees of J Barbour and Sons were joined by MPs for the march to the firm’s heaquarters on the Simonside Industrial Estate in South Shields.
The workers, members of the Unite union, are in a dispute with the clothing firm over new contracts they claim will remove unsociable hours allowance payments and see them working new shift patterns, including 6.30am starts and 11pm finishes.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn took part in a meeting with managers and presented the company with a letter on behalf of the striking workers, all based at the firm’s warehouse in Wardley, Gateshead.
The letter outlines the union’s concerns and calls for the management to enter into talks due to take place on Monday with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) “meaningfully” and with a “clear view” to resolving the dispute.
Mr Hepburn, joined on the march by South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, said: “Some of the workers have caring responsibilities both for elderly, sick parents and also young children, and to change their contracts midstream is not on.
“The warehouse at Wardley is in a remote location, and expecting females to work until 11pm needs to be looked at.
“I am not here to do any negotiations. I am here on a fact-finding visit and to see if we can get the management and the union back around the table to come to a resolution.”
The change of contracts, set to see a two-shift system put in place, was announced last May.
The company says it offered a pay rise of 10 per cent and had made special arrangements to help staff dependent on public transport by providing a minibus service to a local transport hub.
The dispute involves 134 of the firm’s 600 North-East workers.
Brenda Readman-Bell, finance and IT director at Barbour, said: “We have been working closely with the workforce and the union for nearly eight months to agree new terms and have made significant improvements to the original deal.
“Barbour needs to introduce the changes to the shift system because we are at capacity in the warehouse, both in terms of meeting health and safety obligations and in delivering efficiency.
“Without making these necessary changes to the shift patterns, we are imperilling the prosperity of our business, and this has major implications for the livelihood of our entire workforce.
“We are extremely keen to bring this to a positive conclusion as evidenced in all the concessions we have agreed, and for that reason we have asked for a further meeting with Acas on Monday as well as meeting our two local MPs.”