by Alan Sutherland, Unite lead officer, RTC sector
Maylands is a small warehouse operation based in Hemel Hempstead and is run by Gist Ltd. It has since 2008 employed just 36 workers, mainly on nights, picking and loading goods.
It is part of a bigger operation on site adjacent to it where there is a national set of terms and conditions and Unite enjoys membership of over 460 workers and has built a vibrant fighting back branch that has grown dramatically in the last 18 months. The site offers logistics to the successful Marks & Spencer foods brand which distributes to stores and BP garage forecourts throughout the London and eastern region.
The Maylands staff have a local bargaining agreement which has secured a three per cent deal in 2011 and a lump sum that year of £300 per staff member. Unite negotiated this, but was dismayed at the time by the very low levels of Unite involvement.
However, Unite had less than 10 members in the union's bargaining unit. Clearly, a very weak position in which to negotiate to reach the sort of terms enjoyed by the main site's workers. The union had one steward, he may have even been demoralised and feeling powerless to deliver a better employment package.
All of this had to change.
In 2013, approaching the April anniversary date, the local officer, branch secretary and steward all got together and agreed that we had to grow the union around the issue of full harmonisation for Maylands employees and not just rest on having yet another disappointing pay round.
In April, the union having had shift meetings with all workers and surveyed their thoughts could see that we had to move Gist towards terms similar to the main site operation. So, Unite began to improve its membership and the union formally entered into negotiation with the company on 3 May 2013. The result was that Gist refused to commence discussion over harmonisation. The union went back to its members and non members alike and said it would organise a strike ballot. Unite also tried to arrange the involvement of Acas.
Days later, the union experienced a further upsurge in membership and found itself in a position of almost achieving full membership.
In June Gist finally conceded to negotiate an extraordinary deal around harmonising the pay gap.
Throughout the process, workers were eager to take action to fight for their rights, a point which not only impressed upon Gist the seriousness of how these workers were taking the issue, but also drew more workers to be confident in joining the union.
After much negotiation, Unite finally managed to negotiate an entry deal of 20 months totalling over £2,000 per person and conclude this on 8t August 2013 when it was accepted by a majority of the union's members.
The pay gap is now just 0.17p per hour with the national agreement. A gap which will be closed in the future and for no loss of terms or conditions in any way. Unite has grown its membership by over 500 per cent in just five months, and Unite is now electing two further stewards to cover the 24 hour operations as well as electing a union learning rep.
Workers now have a renewed confidence in their union organisation, having achieved a very significant and important victory.
The pay deal is worth more than most pay deals will be worth over the next 20 months, and, is significantly above the cost of living.