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London: Sainsbury's checkout staff stage 'decent wage' protest
The Guardian
Rupert Neate

July 13, 2011
View the Original Article

Retailer's chief executive is targeted at annual meeting over £3.2m in pay and bonuses

Sainsbury's checkout staff have demanded that Justin King, the supermarket's chief executive, "try something new today and pay us a decent wage".

Staff, wearing Justin King masks, protested outside the company's annual meeting in central London demanding that their pay be increased from the current minimum of £6.31 an hour.

Debbie Walker, a checkout worker who had travelled from Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, said it was "shameful" that King collected pay and bonuses of £3.24m last year while she struggles to get by on £6.71 an hour after 15 years of loyal service. "I've had no pay rise for two years, and we're facing no pay rises in the future," she said. "I don't really have enough money to live on. I get paid just 40p more than my daughter, who only started this year. What's that for loyalty?"

The Unite union is calling on Sainsbury's to pay its staff a "living wage" of £8.30 an hour in London and £7.20 outside the capital. The union points out that Sainsbury's is lagging behind rival Tesco, which pays staff a minimum of £7 an hour.

Jennie Formby, national officer of Unite, said: "It is only right that the dedicated workforce, many of whom are female and work part-time for family reasons, who form the backbone of this company are given a fair pay settlement which reflects the outstanding performance of Sainsbury's."

Walker said she would be happy to accept a pay freeze if Sainsbury's was struggling, but "they're making huge profits". Earlier this year the supermarket reported a 9% increase in underlying full-year profits to £665m.

King said that Sainsbury's offers "absolutely competitive wages" and is "very proud" of its record of paying competitively. He said the company had to "juggle" paying staff more money against reducing prices for customers and returning value to shareholders.

Despite the protest, 98.2% of Sainsbury's shareholders approved the supermarket's pay policy.