Sainsbury's lorry

Source: Sainsburys

The drivers are based out of sites in Essex and Birmingham

Hundreds of Sainsbury’s lorry drivers are contemplating strike action over plans to outsource their employment to Wincanton, citing concerns that they could lose key workplace benefits as a result.

“Around 500” drivers based at Sainsbury’s distribution centres in Waltham Abbey in Essex and Coleshill in Birmingham, are set to ballot over whether they should take industrial action in response to Sainsbury’s proposes to transfer their employment to Wincanton.

The proposals form part of a wider £220million consolidation of Sainsbury’s store logistics network announced in April 2023

Under the proposals, Sainsbury’s is aiming to simplify its logistics network by switching from a network of multiple contracts to three dedicated providers, Wincanton, GXO and DHL, who will each take over responsibility for a specific aspect of its operations.

Wincanton is to take responsibility for the majority of Sainsbury’s transport operations. The changes are expected to impact around 7,000 roles in total, with around 3,000 of those being Sainsbury’s employees who transfer to either of the three providers.

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Unite, which represents the 500 drivers at the two sites, claims that this would result in its transferred members effectively losing income, as they’d no longer be eligible for benefits they receive as Sainsbury’s employees. The union specifically mentioned a 15% discount card, which is equivalent to “£1,600 in savings”, it claims.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused Sainsbury’s of attempting to “outsource its staff on the cheap”. The union warned that strike action, if it occurred, would cause “severe disruption” to Sainsbury’s deliveries from the two sites. No other Sainsbury’s sites are though to be affected at this stage.

“There is still time to resolve this dispute before it escalates. But for that to happen, Sainsbury must get back around the negotiating table and put forward a deal our members can accept,” said Unite national officer Matt Draper. The ballot opens on 26 February, and will close on 11 March. Unite will then update whether the drivers will strike.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said the supermarket was “committed” to further talks. “In the meantime we can reassure our customers we have contingency plans in place to minimise any disruption, should the action go ahead,” she added. 

The Grocer has approached Wincanton for comment.

Alongside the consolidation of its store supply chain, Sainsbury’s is also in the process of consolidating its Argos and general merchandise supply chain, with plans to shutter two depots by 2026, in favour of more automation and modernisation at a third.

The business says that the wider cost-cutting programme – which is dubbed Save to Invest – has enabled it to reinvest into its food offer, and lower prices over the last three years, which in turn has enabled the supermarket to take back market share from Aldi and Lidl.

Earlier this month, CEO Simon Roberts outlined the next stage of the plan, as part of Sainsbury’s New Next Level Strategy. Sainsbury’s is targeting a further £1 billion in costs savings by 2027, and plans to invest in AI forecasting, automation and other technology to improve efficiency across its stores and supply chain.

Roberts refused to rule out the prospect of job cuts as a result.