The supermarket distribution network is heading for turmoil following a series of rows over increased pressures on workers.
Scanning technology, introduced at Tesco’s Thurrock depot and now being used by Sainsbury, sparked outrage this week at the GMB Congress.
The union claims wrist-held computers attached to finger scanners are being used to monitor staff and are creating an enslaved workforce.
A Tesco spokeswoman said feedback from depot workers was positive and added: “The technology is not capable of tracking staff, it is used to pick products correctly and get them to stores as quickly as possible.”
And Sainsbury said: “The
system is not used to monitor movements or break times. Colleagues tell us these units make their job easier.”
But GMB spokesman Steve Pryle insisted the new systems were being used to dictate working conditions and cut pay.
Asda was due to discuss the rollout of its Vocollect voice-picking and radio frequency scanning warehouse technology with the GMB this week, but talks have been delayed due to a potential strike at its Ince depot in Wigan.
GMB representative Duncan Edwards said the union was supporting a ballot for industrial action in support of Ince shop steward Gary Belshaw who was suspended after workers staged a short unofficial walk-out this week to discuss a management demand they increase their picking rate from 1,100 boxes to 1,400 in an eight-hour shift.
“The Ince workers believe that this is a well-thought-out attack on them all,” said Edwards.
Morrisons is also facing the threat of strikes at its Bellshill RDC in Scotland, run by Christian Salvesen. Drivers are opposed to Morrisons’ plans to change drivers’ shifts to enforce weekend work and have issued a collective grievance.
Sainsbury has also upset workers at its Charlton depot by announcing it has brought in private contractor Exel. The T&G union was due to discuss the issue with Sainsbury as The Grocer went to press.
Meanwhile, Tesco is closing its warehouse in Strood, Kent, this year with the loss of 400 jobs and transferring the work to Thurrock. And Asda is closing its ambient distribution centre in Washington, Tyne & Wear.
Distribution workers had become the latest victims of the supermarkets’ price war, said Edwards. “New technology has allowed them to put new demands on workers.”
Fiona McLelland