TESCO could be facing empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas as warehouse workers and drivers vote to take strike action.
Unite said more than 1,000 of its members, based at depots in Antrim, Belfast, Didcot and Doncaster, would take industrial action unless they are offered a pay deal that keeps pace with inflation. Tesco’s has offered staff a pay rise of only 4%, which Unite has said is “offensive” given that the retail price index rate of inflation stands at 6%. It is also below the current consumer prices index (CPI) which is 4.2%. It probably wasn’t Scrooge that said ‘every little helps’ but “rewarding” your staff by effectively giving them a pay cut could very well have come out of a Dickens novel.
If the company does not improve its offer, Unite has said warehouse workers and drivers at the above four depots would start a series of rolling strikes from 16 December. Nine more warehouses could also be affected, depending on the outcome of a separate vote on industrial action by the Usdaw shop workers’ union, which closed yesterday.
Members want a “decent pay offer”
“Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled throughout the pandemic,” said Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham. “At the very least the UK’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making our members a decent pay offer.”
While Unite has warned that strikes could result in shortages of some goods, the supermarket has said it will be able to mitigate any disruption and is working to reassure shoppers their Christmas shopping plans will not be put in jeopardy.
Plans to mitigate impacts
A Tesco spokesperson said: “Our distribution colleagues have worked tirelessly through the pandemic in order to keep products moving for customers. The pay offer we have made is a fair recognition of this, and is one of the highest awards made within our distribution business in the last 25 years.”
“We welcome the decision by our colleagues at the sites who have voted against industrial action. We are disappointed that some have voted to proceed, and we have contingency plans in place to help mitigate any impacts.”
“We have worked hard to deliver Christmas for our customers and are confident we will be able to fulfil our plans.”
‘Real-terms pay cut’
However, Unite has said its members were particularly angry at the below-inflation pay offer which they consider a “real-terms pay cut” – because the supermarket has said it is on course to report an annual operating profit of as much as £2.6bn.
Sites in Didcot and Doncaster will see an initial 48 hour stoppage beginning at 6am on 16 December, in addition to a five day stoppage from 20 December. There will also be a 48-hour strike on 30 December and a three-day stoppage on 5 January at the two depots. Union members at sites in Antrim and Belfast will start a continuous strike from 7am on 16 December.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Unite is taking strike action as a last resort having exhausted all other options. Even at this late stage Tesco could still avoid severe disruption in its stores by returning to the negotiating table and making a greatly improved offer.”
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