co-op lorry

The Co-operative Group has dismissed Unite claims that deliveries of fresh produce to its stores will be compromised when 700 of the retailer’s lorry drivers strike for two days from Monday.

The drivers will also begin an open-ended work to rule as their dispute over the outsourcing of 87 jobs from the Coventry national distribution centre steps up.

“Product availability will be unaffected by the proposed strike and we are in talks with the union at ACAS to resolve the matter,” a spokesman for The Co-op said.

Unite received 77% support for strike action from its members earlier this week, with 84% voting for industrial action short of a strike.

The drivers are worried about future outsourcing of more of their jobs, though The Co-op has denied any plans for this.

“The 48-hour strike will be felt by Co-op customers across the UK,” claimed Unite national officer for retail distribution Adrian Jones.

“The Co-op has the delivery of fresh produce, such as milk and fruit & veg, as a top business priority in the battle for supermarket sales. This will be severely disrupted with the knock-on impact for its reputation with customers.”

However, The Grocer understands back-up plans have already been put in place by the retailer, and it is confident its services for customers will be unaffected.

Unite claims the majority of the 87 Coventry drivers directly affected by the dispute are considering taking a severance package rather than be TUPE’d [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] to haulier Eddie Stobart.

In 2012, Unite had a long-running dispute with Stobart when 187 Tesco drivers were TUPE’d to the company. Unite claims they were then issued with a termination of employment notice and many are still out of work.

It said its members were angry The Co-op had “betrayed their years of dedicated service”, and they had no wish to work for Eddie Stobart, preferring instead to “wash their hands of both” employers unless other options can be agreed.

Unite wants ACAS talks to look at suggestions from its shop stewards to increase efficiency and reduce costs at Coventry.

Unite is also mounting a legal challenge over The Co-op’s severance package, claiming it is an attack on workers’ rights.

“These macho-management tactics are not the way to deal with this dispute; throwing money at the problem for it to go away does not address the crux of the dispute - that our members don’t want to be transferred to employers with Eddie Stobart’s controversial reputation,” Jones said.

Drivers will strike at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland; Castlewood, north Derbyshire; Chester-Le-Street, County Durham; Coventry; Inverness; Newhouse, Lanarkshire; Plymouth and Thurrock in Essex from 00.01am on Monday.