This year, British retailers have been making changes to pay as they roll out the National Living Wage. The government’s aim was for the change to the national minimum wage to benefit workers over 25, but many feel they are missing out.
Others have been starting petitions to challenge how companies are bringing in the changes. In the latest high street battle, Kate* who says she has given her life to the Marks & Spencer brand, tells Change.org’s Nadia Gilani why her ‘love affair’ with the chain is now over and how the company’s pay changes will have a ‘devastating’ effect on people’s lives.
To many, Marks & Spencer (M&S) is as quintessentially British as fish and chips or drinking tea. But the high street fixture is the latest retail giant to find itself in a dispute with staff over pay changes which it says ‘would reward our people in a fair and consistent way’.
In 2015, the government announced the minimum wage would be increased from £6.70 to a national living wage of £7.20 for over-25s, which came into force on April 1 this year.
Kate*, now 61, started working for M&S when she was 18 and has dedicated over four decades of service to the company. Though she has fond memories of what she calls a ‘colourful career’, she says she will be ‘worse off’ if the pay changes go ahead.
She said: ‘I wasn’t a typical M&S girl when I started. I was a bit quirky and had mad hair, but an older manager took me by the hand and guided me until I found my way.
‘I had a very charmed career, I got to do lots of interesting jobs and it offered privileges, but my love affair with M&S is finished now. When our manager made the announcement I felt like a bucket of cold water had been thrown in my face’.
More than 66,000 have signed Kate’s petition which is calling on the retailer to reverse its decision to make cuts to the extra pay currently offered on Sundays, Bank Holidays and for working after 9pm. Kate added: ‘It’s very humbling to watch the numbers on my petition grow. It’s because people who love M&S are shocked at what’s going on.
‘I just felt I had to be the one to push back and make sure our voices are heard. The support just keeps me wanting to go further. I feel empowered by the public because of all the signatures and comments from people saying they’re behind me.
‘Believe me, anybody who is standing on the till or working on the shop floor is feeling very despondent at the moment. They can’t believe a company they have given their life’s service to is taking a decision that will result in dramatic changes to lives and financial loss.’
All staff are entitled to a one-off compensatory payment - which will vary - and Kate estimates hers will amount to £410 that means she will have to dip into her pension pot to cover costs after the changes take affect.
In a response to the petition, M&S’s director of retail Sacha Berendji admitted: ‘The vast majority of our people would be better off under the proposals. However a small but significant number of people, some of whom have worked for M&S for a long time, would be affected financially by the proposals and we understand that they are disappointed.’
Earlier this year, B&Q was also accused of cutting pay on Sundays and Bank Holidays to offset the cost of the national living wage.
The DIY retailer offering workers two years’ compensation and further negotiations over their pay packages after store manager, Kevin Smith* started a petition signed by 145,000 people.
Similarly Britain’s biggest supermarket Tesco came under fire after it announced its own pay review. Jane Smith* has the support of 80,000 on her petition, asking for proposed cuts to extra pay on Sundays be reversed, though the supermarket says the petition's claim that pay would be cut because of the Living Wage was ‘simply not true’.
Last month, MP Siobhain McDonagh called on the Prime Minister to ensure companies 'not abiding by the spirit of the new National Living Wage' were stopped from making changes to pay - but the government is yet to respond. The outcome of the campaigns started by Kate, James and Julia remain to be seen.
What they do reveal is how starting a petition has become an effective way for workers to stand up against 'unfair' decisions being made by their employers.
For more information on any of these campaigns or to join the National Living Wage movement, click here.
*Names of petition starters have been changed to protect identities