More than 700 Co-op drivers are being balloted for industrial action over its proposal to transfer about 87 drivers in the Midlands to controversial haulier Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL).
Because of the implications for future outsourcing by the Co-op group, Unite, the country’s largest union, will be holding a ballot for strike action and/or industrial action short of a strike from Tuesday 1 March. The ballot closes on Monday 14 March.
The national board of The Co-operative Group has agreed to transfer the drivers based at Coventry to ESL in April, but Unite has raised serious concerns about the proposal, given ESL’s past treatment of workers transferred to its operations.
The Co-op driver members being balloted are based at Birtley, Newcastle; Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland; Castlewood, north Derbyshire; Coventry; Inverness; Newhouse, Lanarkshire; Plymouth and Thurrock in Essex.
Andy Perry, logistics director at Co-operative Food, has said that there are no plans to outsource either the other areas of transport operated by the Co-op or any of its warehouse functions – but this is disputed by Unite who said that its members did not believe these ‘assurances’.
Unite national officer for retail distribution Adrian Jones said: “Basically we have heard it all before and while it may be copper bottomed, it is not cast iron.
“Our members are not yet convinced that this will not happen again. The other aspect is that the TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] to controversial haulier Eddie Stobart is not consistent with the values and principles of the Co-op.
“Our members want to stay with the Co-op and our members nationally are intent on supporting their colleagues in Coventry.”
In 2012, Unite was embroiled in a long-running dispute when Tesco in Doncaster TUPE’d 184 workers to ESL. The drivers were then issued with a termination of employment notice with no prospect of re-employment. Many of those drivers are still out of work.
The Co-op has already intimated that it does not see itself as a haulier and the union argues that with four sites already outsourced in Andover, Avonmouth, Cambridgeshire and the north west, the plans to outsource Coventry are the thin end of the wedge.
Adrian Jones added: “We are very opposed to this proposed TUPE of the Co-op drivers to Eddie Stobart as its approach to industrial relations compared to the ethos of the Co-operative movement is akin to ‘oil-and-water’.
“That’s why we are holding this strike ballot for these 700 driver members because 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.
“The Co-op group has been through some difficult times recently during which Unite was extremely supportive.
“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.”
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite national officer Adrian Jones on 07739 654 859 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.