Co-op Food lorry

Lorry drivers at The Co-operative Group have voted for industrial action, including striking, in their dispute over outsourcing.

The Unite union balloted more than 700 drivers at The Co-op depots across the country after the society said it wanted to transfer 87 jobs at its Coventry national distribution centre to the haulier Eddie Stobart.

The ballot closed on Monday (14 March), with 77% of the drivers voting for strike action and 84% in favour of other industrial action short of a strike.

“The ballot result is a strong mandate from our members to continue to fight hard to protect their pay and conditions,” said Unite’s national officer for retail distribution, Adrian Jones.

“We will now be consulting with our members as to the next steps regarding industrial action.

“In the meantime, we call on the management to sit down and discuss the situation constructively under the auspices of the conciliation service, ACAS.

“All Unite is asking is that we have more time to investigate the viability of the comprehensive list of suggestions put forward by our shop stewards at Coventry to increase efficiency and reduce costs.”

Before the ballot began on 1 March, The Co-op said it would look into taking the dispute to ACAS to try to avoid strike action.

It also wrote to all 1,000 of its drivers to reassure them about their jobs. It later said Eddie Stobart had agreed to recognise the union and had given assurances about members’ concerns.

Unite, which had a previous long-running dispute with Eddie Stobart when drivers where transferred by Tesco, said its members were worried about more outsourcing in the future. Four Co-op sites had already been outsourced in Andover, Avonmouth, Cambridgeshire and the North West and plans to outsource Coventry were the thin end of the wedge, it claimed.

“We are very opposed to this proposed TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] of The Co-op drivers to Eddie Stobart as there is a chasm in its approach to industrial relations, compared to the ethos of The Co-op,” Jones said.

“If they are outsourced it is highly likely that their pay, and terms and conditions will be seriously eroded; even their jobs could be under threat.”

Industrial action, if it goes ahead, could be all-out withdrawal of labour, partial stoppages, a work to rule or other variations.

Unite said a decision would be taken within the next few days after consultation with its depot reps.

A spokesperson for the Co-op said: “We are disappointed by the ballot outcome. We have agreed that all colleagues will see their terms and conditions protected when they transfer to Eddie Stobart Ltd and that Unite will be the recognised Union for driver colleagues post-transfer.

“We are working hard to resolve the matter and have already offered to meet ACAS with Unite. We are supporting our colleagues in Coventry and have worked with Eddie Stobart to ensure that they are fully informed of their individual choices.”