Discount store chain Wibra can ask staff to work extra hours to make up for time lost during the coronavirus lockdown, a court has ruled.
The FNV trade union went to court seeking an injunction against the company on behalf of workers on flexitime contracts, who were told they would have to catch up the hours they had been paid for but not worked.
The court said the request was reasonable under the terms of their contracts, which specified an average number of working hours per week for a fixed salary. Any overtime or ‘under-time’ worked can be reclaimed later in the year.
The FNV argued that the purpose of the clause was to allow the company to vary workers’ hours during periods of high seasonal demand or sickness, but it was not applicable to hours not worked because of the lockdown.
Wibra received government support to keep paying wages through the pandemic, the FNV pointed out.
But the district court in Gelderland said the company was entitled to claim back the hours under the flexible wage clause. ‘This only involves an extra 40 minutes a week per employee for the remaining 35 weeks of 2021. That is not unacceptable,’ they said.
‘The FNV is unfairly accusing Wibra of not behaving like a good employer.’
Wibra said some of the unworked hours would be written off and it was in talks with its works council to finalise the numbers. It accused the FNV of running a ‘hate campaign’ in the media and on social media that ‘seriously hurt our organisation and our colleagues’.
‘The union painted a picture of Wibra that was a caricature of reality,’ a spokesman said. ‘The number of hours owed is limited and nothing like as high as it was presented by the FNV.’
But the union said the collective bargaining agreement for the retail sector, which it was not party to, was one of the worst in the country and it was considering ‘further legal’ action.
‘The FNV is aware of examples of employees having to catch up 40, 50 or more than 100 hours this summer,’ said union official Linda Vermeulen.
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