Tesco has rejected claims it moved a distribution centre as part of an effort to employ cheaper staff from Eastern Europe.
The supermarket giant insisted the allegation was incorrect after extracts of a speech, made today by shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant, were leaked to newspapers over the weekend.
The MP was reportedly due to say that Tesco had moved a distribution centre to Kent where a “large percentage” of staff are from “Eastern Bloc” countries, alongside the claim that the majority of British staff at the original site were told “they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay”.
“We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site”
However, Tesco said it did not have a distribution centre in Kent, although it recently moved a distribution centre from Essex to Dagenham in east London. A spokeswoman said: “It is wrong to accuse Tesco of this. We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site.”
Mr Bryant was due to make the comments in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, in which he described Tesco as a “good employer” and an “important source of jobs in Britain”.
However in the version of his address delivered this morning, the minister said: “When a distribution centre was moved to a new location existing staff said they would have lost out by transferring and the result was a higher proportion of staff from A8 countries taking up jobs.
“Tesco are clear they have tried to recruit locally. And I hope they can provide more reassurance for their existing staff. But the fact that staff are raising concern shows how sensitive the issue has become.”
A8 countries are the group of eight nations which joined the EU in 2004.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, Bryant maintained it was never his intention to tar Tesco with the ‘unscrupulous employer’ brush. “I never intended them [Tesco and Next] to be included in the list… of unscrupulous employers who don’t pay the national minimum wage, but we know that there are companies that are doing that in this country,” he said.
Tesco blog post
In a blog post published this afternoon, Tesco UK operations director Gerry Gray refuted the suggestion that staff were asked to take a pay cut to move from Harlow to Dagenham.
“It is also not true that ‘a large proportion’ of the workers in Dagenham are non-British,” he added. “Whether employed directly by Tesco or through an agency, they are overwhelmingly from the local area.
“But the most serious accusation is that we have employed foreign workers in Dagenham on cheaper wages over British workers. This is simply untrue.
“We are not legally allowed to offer different rates of pay to people from different nations. Our pay rates are the same whether colleagues are British or from the EU and our combined pay and benefits package is in the top 25% for the industry.”