There was a time when no shops were allowed to open on a Sunday at all, and for a long while it’s been seen as a special day worthy of extra pay and shorter hours. Now it seems clothing giant Next regards it as just another working day.
The company has been accused of demanding longstanding employees give up the premium they get for working on a Sunday or risk being made redundant. The issue only affects 800 workers who began working for the company before 2008 (more recent recruits don't get the premium) but is pretty bad PR nonetheless.
‘Working on a Sunday, since it was introduced back in the 90s, has become a new normal – so Next feels it is no longer justifiable to pay some of its staff up to 50% more than colleagues doing the same work on the same day,’ a spokesperson told the Guardian. That’s not gone down well with the unions.
‘Next claim that they consider Sunday to be a normal working day and use this opinion to justify cutting pay on Sunday,’ said Mark Hix, GMB’s national officer for retail workers. ‘There can hardly be a better example of a company that has a total disregard for family life.’
Of course, being a union man, he couldn’t resist politcising things a bit, adding, ‘Multi-millionaire Tory peer Lord Wolfson shows himself to be an out of touch arrogant hypocrite.’
Next’s boss has been a big target of criticism for workers’ rights campaigners, especially after he criticised those calling for a so-called ‘Living Wage’, describing the term as ‘irrelevant’. But last month he pledged to put up workers’ pay by 5%, offering to share his £1.1m bonus with staff if there was a funding shortfall, which will go some way, if not miles, in repairing his and the company’s image.
This latest case won’t have helped though. The public is pretty divided in its opinion of Sunday trading laws and the current regulations, which restrict hours of large shops, are likely to become a point of contention again as new business secretary Sajid Javid plans a red tape bonfire. Next had best tread carefully.