A MAIL order giant has come under fire from trade union chiefs over allegations that some employees are working 72 hours a week in the run-up to Christmas.
Express Gifts, based on Henry Street, Church, which also has a site on the Clayton-le-Moors Business Park, employs hundreds of staff as well as temporary seasonal workers to cope with the pre-Christmas shopping boom.
But officials at Hyndburn and Rossendale Trade Union Council say they fear workers are having pressure put on them to work “unreasonable” shifts of 8am to 8pm, six days a week.
It is not the first time the firm has come under fire following claims in 2005 that it had imported 300 workers from Eastern Europe in the run-up to Christmas rather than use local workers.
Peter Billington, secretary of Hyndburn and Rossendale TUC, said: “We must concern at reports that temporary staff at Express Gifts are being required to work from 8am to 8pm six days a week. These are unreasonable hours and it seems the company is taking advantage of the workers it employs.
“The commonest abuse of the Working Time Regulations is employers putting undue pressure on their employees to individually opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week and work longer hours.
“If Express Gifts is telling workers at their interviews that they must work longer than 48 hours a week in order to get a job, this is clearly against the spirit of the regulations.”
He added that workers should be aware that if they had agreed to opt out of their normal working hours they could withdraw their agreement at any time. And if any worker was sacked for withdrawing their agreement to work extra hours, the case could be taking to an employment tribunal.
But a spokesman for Express Gifts said: “The allegations made by Hyndburn and Rossendale TUC are completely inaccurate.
“The contracts under which temporary staff work at Express Gifts have been agreed with trade unions on the site and totally comply with Working Time Regulations. There are two contracts available for temporary staff at Express Gifts - working either a 42.5 hour or a 57.5 hour week.
“Staff may exceed this where they indicate that they would like to work longer hours if these are available, in which case they get paid at a premium rate. No pressure is applied on staff to opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week. Those applying for the 57.5 hour week are clearly choosing to undertake those hours.
“Employees on the 42.5 hour contract are offered the opportunity to switch to the 57.5 hour contract if they so wish and they sign a contract to indicate their agreement to this.
“Staff are not required to work from 8am to 8pm six days a week. The few that do so, 10 per cent, have especially asked to do so.”