Asda Gosport

Source: GMB

Asda has launched a fierce defence of its treatment of staff and the running of the company since the Issa brothers’ takeover, as it faces down a growing dispute with the GMB union over pay and conditions.

In an exclusive statement to The Grocer, the supermarket accused the union of using “localised” flare-ups in a bid to paint a picture of a retailer in crisis.

Its defence includes strong denials of “asset stripping” by the brothers and TDR since their takeover of the company in 2021, stressing how they have spent “hundreds of millions of pounds” investing in the long-term future of the company.

Meanwhile, Asda accused union staff of “aggressive and intimidating behaviour”, as well as of making inaccurate claims about the situation in affected stores.

The extraordinary response comes after a series of strike threats facing the retailer grew with the announcement of votes at three more stores last week. Nearly 400 GMB members at the Wisbech, Brighton Hollingbury and Brighton Marina stores are to vote on whether to take industrial action.

It follows the first ever strike of Asda workers at the retailer’s Gosport store, where almost 100 GMB members walked out in protest at what the union claimed was a “toxic” working environment.

“We want to have positive relationships with all our trade union partners including the GMB, with whom we have a joint partnership agreement covering GMB members in our retail stores,” said an Asda spokesman.

“This sets out a framework for constructive industrial relations based on mutual understanding and a willingness on both sides to address issues as soon as they arise. This agreement continues to work well in the majority of retail stores that have GMB representation.

“Regrettably, GMB officials in a small number of localised stores in the south have repeatedly ignored this agreement, failing to engage in the expected manner and are not helping us to understand the specific concerns they may have.

“We are genuinely committed to addressing and resolving any concerns put to us, and working together with the GMB in the process, but despite repeated requests for specific details regarding these claims, we have yet to receive this information.”

Asda also launched a strong denial of union claims that the owners have slashed hours in the business to boost profits.

The GMB claims an estimated eight million hours had been cut from the shop floor in the past two years alone, reducing staff costs by up to tens of millions of pounds.

But Asda claims there has been huge investment in stores, including building a nationwide chain of convenience stores from scratch, with over 300 currently open to date. It also argued the Asda Rewards loyalty app had positioned the company and its staff for “long-term growth”.

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Meanwhile, Asda claims it has raised concerns with the union over the behaviour of a “small number “ of officials at stores in the south following complaints over their behaviour from other staff. The most extreme example of this inappropriate behaviour was during the recent industrial action in Gosport, where colleagues were abused and harassed by GMB officials as they arrived for work, the company claims.

It said it had requested specific details from the GMB regarding the alleged issues at stores in Wisbech and Brighton, but had not received this information, with a meeting due to be held on Friday this week.

Asda pointed out it was “hugely unusual” for a trade union to raise a trade dispute without seeking to try and address any issues with an employer first.

The supermarket also disputed the GMB’s claims that more than 100 colleagues walked out in Gosport’s recent action as factually incorrect, claiming only around 30 of the 200-plus staff actually took part.

Asda’s version of events is vastly at odds with the union. Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, said the Issa brothers and TDR Capital had been “asset-stripping” Asda at pace.

“An estimated eight million hours have been cut from the shop floor in the past two years alone, reducing staff costs by up to tens of millions of pounds,” she said.

“GMB members want to know why they are being forced to do more work with fewer colleagues and worsening health and safety standards, while Moshin Issa spends millions on mansions and private jets.

“These cuts are not something that Asda workers agreed to nor had any say in. That is why they are calling for proper rights for Asda’s largest trade union – GMB – to represent them.”