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Demonstration puts focus on Morrisons pay dispute, as union warns of escalation

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

Over 150 people marched from Casemates to Morrisons on Saturday in support of Unite the Union members at the supermarket who are on strike in a dispute over pay.

The marchers included the striking Morrisons’ workers, their supporters and other Unite the Union members, who chanted ‘Same pay as UK, no low pay’.

Morrisons’ Unite members have been on strike since January 30 over a 20p an hour pay rise offer that was rejected by 100% of the union’s members at the store, who represent about a third of the workforce.

Unite plans to escalate the protests to outside stores in the UK should talks not resume or a solution be found to the current situation.

Morrisons’ workers in Gibraltar say it is wrong they are paid around £2 less than their UK counterparts.

The divide is set to increase further with UK workers expected to receive a further 22p an hour within the coming weeks, Unite said.

While the strike had gained support in the form of a petition, with over 800 signatures, and on social media, Saturday gave the public an opportunity to march alongside the workers.

“Many of our stewards decided to join us in support of what we see he a worthy cause,” Unite's Christian Duo said.

“Morrisons imposed a deal that Unite members unanimously rejected.”

“Let's not forget that in a month's time, Morrison's workers in the UK will be receiving a further 22p increase an hour, which will not be applicable to Gibraltar.”

“That means hundreds and 1000s of workers in the UK will receive a 22p increase, but not workers in Gibraltar.”

“That for me is discrimination.”

Unite said it is willing to sit down with the employer to discuss a way out of the dispute but claimed “Morrisons is not listening”.

“We are willing to take escalating action,” Mr Duo warned.

“Let's not forget the protest in UK last week [outside Morrisons head office] last Friday [February 24].”

“We've got the full support of the general secretary and we are looking at escalating action both in Gibraltar and in UK.”

“We are looking at targeting stores in UK and doing demonstrations outside stores in the UK, so customers and workers there know what's happening in Gibraltar.”

“This is discrimination.”

“This is colonialism at its best.”

Mr Duo said that Unite has not ruled out asking for support from other unions or for support from other departments within its membership.

While the workers have a lot of support in the community, there is concern too about the impact that the long-running strike action could have on the supermarket’s future plans here.

“Morrison's has made £828 million profit last year, and Morrison's will not just simply leave,” Mr Duo said.

“But we have the right to collectively bargain and that is what we want.”

“What they have done is impose a right against the wishes of the members of the union, and that is wrong.”

“We have not had any dispute with them for 30 odd years. We have had a relationship with them and this is the first big dispute we've ever had with them.”

“And it's simply because of the arrogant nature and the way that they are dealing with the dispute, and that's the reality.”

“And what I say to people is, people have the right to demonstrate, people have the right to take action on what's happening in Gibraltar."

Mr Duo said that without support for the Morrisons’ workers, it could be the first step on “a slippery slope” of pay issues for others in the private or public sectors on the Rock.

Since the strike began, the number of workers who left the picket line and those who have joined has fluctuated, with Mr Duo stating at present there are two more than they originally started with.

One of these is an employee in the butcher’s department who joined the strike having learnt that a UK worker flown to Gibraltar to bolster staff was earning £4 an hour more than him.

Mr Duo said that both workers have the same job title.

“Job descriptions in Gibraltar are the same as in the UK, so we believe that the earnings should be,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that there are some particularities in Gibraltar that do not apply to UK workers, including higher Sunday pay.

“We have been transparent in that,” he said.

“We have not been hiding any facts. We are saying we know that our members in Gibraltar have double payments for Sunday.”

“We understand that. Let's engage, let's talk about it.”

“We are the reasonable party and not them.”

“They are being unreasonable.”

Gillian Birkett, Unite’s regional officer, also showed her support for the workers on Saturday and joined the march.

Her message was clear: “We cannot have this disparity with UK members who are doing exactly the same job as those in UK.”

“There's a massive disparity in wages.”

“Then again, I don't see why such a big company has not taken the step forward in sitting down sensitively and talking to us.”

“We see that they prefer having this happening instead of sitting down amicably and with intentions to actually stop this dispute.”

She reiterated that the workers have the full support of the union locally and in the UK.

While the workers are striking, the union pays their wages.

Ms Birkett explained that the workers do not get less pay from the union compared to their pay from Morrisons.

“It’s slightly even higher,” she said.

On the topic of job security should the strike end, cautioned that there should be no reprisals against workers who have taken action in defence of their rights.

“The union backing the employees 100%,” she said.

“So we will not allow any employee of Morrison's to get dismissed for taking part in the strike.”

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