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Drivers’ strike keeps the beer flowing

Drivers’ strike keeps the beer flowing

05 November 2013

Publicans around the country owe the union a vote of thanks after Unite drinks delivery workers persuaded management at Kuehne + Nagel Drinks Logistics (KNDL) to shelve plans for a radical shake-up of its distribution system. After a 24-hour strike in September, the company finally accepted Unite members’ arguments highlighting flaws in the company’s Project Beethoven, which could have seen pubs run dry.

“We talked for months, we really tried to avoid going on strike even though the company broke national agreements,” said Unite senior shop steward, Dennis Wilson. “Finally, we felt we had to take action to save the business and our jobs. We balloted 970 workers, with 85 per cent in favour of strike action on a turnout of 64 per cent. That is very high when you consider the vote took place in the peak August holiday season.    

“Publicans assumed we were striking for more money or improved terms. But when we resumed deliveries, we wrote our own letter of apology to them, explaining the issues. Now they understand Unite members made sure they got continuity of supply,” said Wilson.

Instead of holding stocks in 29 depots around the country, KNDL wanted to stockpile products in just three ‘super-hubs’ and then distribute them via the depots. “It meant three delivery journeys, instead of two, meaning the drinks had to be loaded and unloaded an extra time. It would have led to more traffic on the roads and increased fuel consumption that would have cost the company as much as £2 million a year,” he said. 

KNDL distributes soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits to pubs and other outlets, including the Houses of Parliament. It is a joint venture between the world’s biggest shipping company, Kuehne and Nagel, which is headquartered in Switzerland, and Danish brewer, Heineken. 

Unite and KNDL are now rebuilding relationships. “We welcome the fact that the company is talking to us again. It is a partnership in an industry that needs high levels of service. Pubs are having a hard time and we want to protect their workers’ jobs and ours,” said Wilson. Not only has the management climbed down, they are now looking at re-employing managers admin staff made redundant earlier this year. 

“Beer delivery is a craft, it’s not a matter of logistics. Historically, we were draymen and our trade is built on hundreds of years’ experience. Our guys work flat out to make sure beer is delivered in the best possible condition and doesn’t run out at busy times.”

 “This dispute shows Unite being the voice of sanity and standing strong. The result is good for the union, good for the publicans and good for the environment.” 

ENDS

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.