By Ben King

Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption, Protesters marched through the nearby town of Street

The shoe retailer Clarks has agreed to allow mediators to help resolve a strike at its warehouse in Street, Somerset.

The conciliation service Acas confirmed that it is in contact with the company and the union about arranging talks.

Staff at the warehouse have been on strike since 4 October over pay and conditions.

Clarks wants the workers to accept new contracts, which would cut pay for a number of long-serving employees.

The Community union, which represents the strikers, says Clarks is using the controversial “fire and rehire” tactics, where a company dismisses workers and re-employs them on less favourable contracts.

An Acas spokesperson said: “Acas is in touch with both sides involved in the Clarks dispute to work towards having talks as soon as possible.”

Conciliation is a dispute resolution process held by an independent, neutral third party. Acas says nine out of 10 workplace disputes can be resolved this way.

This weekend Adrian Axtell, Community’s national secretary, called for mediation but told the BBC “it has got to be a serious attempt to try to resolve this matter”.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the trade union confirmed that it had been approached by Acas and agreed immediately to meet with them and Clarks.”If reports are correct and the company have agreed to meet with us and Acas we look forwards to entering the process,” they said.

“We are hopeful that we can come to a resolution that works in everybody’s interests, protects our members livelihoods and recognises their loyalty to the company.”

The BBC understands that Clarks is not likely to submit to binding mediation, but the company hopes that Acas’s non-binding conciliation process will help resolve the dispute.

Clarks says that 69% of warehouse workers have accepted the new contracts, up from 53% last week, though some of those who have signed are still taking part in the strike.

Last week Clarks improved its proposal to all affected employees by 5.6% to £10.03 per hour.

This would still represent a pay cut for long-standing workers, who say they stand to lose out by as much as 20%.

Community says that between 120 to 230 workers are taking part in the strike, though Clarks says the true number is lower.

The dispute has become increasingly bitter in recent days. The union accused Clarks of using agency workers to cover the duties of striking workers – Clarks says it has always acted within the law.

Last week Clarks also wrote to Community to complain about alleged harassment and intimidation at the site. The union says it has always acted in accordance with the law, and has addressed concerns about behaviour at the picket.

This weekend workers held a protest march in the town.

Clarks has been restructuring its business to reduce costs after the company was hit with disastrous losses during the pandemic. Sales were down 44%, and the company lost £172m last year.

The Clark family, which has owned the business since its founding nearly 200 years ago, sold a majority stake to the Hong Kong-based private equity group LionRock in March to ensure the company’s survival.

Since then Clarks has cut hundreds of jobs and imposed new terms and conditions in other areas, including its head office.

Clarks declined to comment on the talks.

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