Sainsbury's results look weak at first glance, but are actually pretty strong

Total sales increased 3.3 per cent.

Sainsbury’s has announced that, during the 12 weeks to 08 June 2013,  total sales (inc. VAT ex fuel) increased 3.3 per cent, with LFLs up 0.8 per cent.  While representing the grocer’s weakest LFL performance in over three years, when put into context this is another strong update from Sainsbury’s. LFL growth has been delivered against tough comparatives – with the same period in 2012 coinciding with the Jubilee – and, more importantly, against wider market trends, with the grocer continuing to outperform key rivals: Morrisons and Tesco. Investment in its well balanced brand proposition continues to have strong traction among hard-pressed British consumers in a polarised market.

Sainsbury’s is getting a number of things very right. Most notable has been investment into own-label architecture, which has afforded it authority to flex its offer in accordance to broadening consumer demands and capabilities. Indeed, both its premium Taste the Difference and mid-tier by Sainsbury’s sub-brands achieved strong growth during this period. This private label investment has been complemented strongly by clever, targeted promotional activity, with its Brand Match scheme being supported by more creative campaigns such as ‘Feed Your Family’ and targeted promotions such through Nectar and via coupon-at-till.  Collectively, this well-aligned own label and promotional activity is somewhat insulating Sainsbury’s in a climate where consumer loyalty is fickle and the hard discounters are excelling.

At the same time, Sainsbury’s continues to display pro-activity in capitalising on opportunities specific to the business and wider trends in the grocery market.  A focus on convenience and online, as well boosting sales in the short term is leaving the business strongly positioned for the next decade. Elsewhere, its non-food offer is relatively immature compared to its supermarket competitors; sales here continue to grow at more than twice the rate of food, highlighting the future scope for growth here.

When viewed in context, despite more subdued LFL growth, this performance can only be seen as providing further evidence in favour of Sainsburys’ current strategic focuses. While Morrisons and Tesco are both investing heavily to turn around their fortunes, the real short-term threat to Sainsbury’s will continue to come from the discounters at one end and Waitrose at the other. In response, it is important that Sainsbury’s continues to be proactive in widening its appeal, strongly leveraging private label and investing in creative promotional investment. 

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.