A thousand Co-operative Group distribution drivers are in talks to take strike action following an announcement that some drivers will be transferred to Eddie Stobart.
The Group’s board made the decision this week, and 85 staff at the Coventry national distribution centre were told on Thursday they could be moved to the private haulier in April. The 310,000 sq. ft. Coventry warehouse deals with ambient goods and delivers to a dozen regional distribution hubs.
Unite, the trade union representing the workers, said it had “serious concerns” about the impact for other drivers across the business because it believes the Group could outsource its entire haulage operation. It is consulting with all members about going on strike.
Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer for retail distribution, said: “The Co-op has already intimated that it does not see itself as a haulier. It is our belief 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.
“That’s why we are holding this consultative ballot for these 1,000 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.
“Our members’ job security across the national transport network is being put at risk by the Co-op’s action. We are taking the temperature for industrial action and expect to then move to a full industrial action ballot.”
A spokesman for the Group said: “We have entered into consultation with affected colleagues regarding some of our logistics operations. The consultation is with colleagues about the proposed changes and how they are potentially impacted.
“We are still in the early stages of consultation, but all staff will be offered roles with the new employers under TUPE regulations, which has the potential to involve 85 drivers.”
Unite said all of its members were at risk of future outsourcing and it will be holding a consultative ballot of its 1,000 Co-op driver members who are based at Birtley, Newcastle; Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland; Castlewood, north Derbyshire; Coventry; Newhouse, Lanarkshire; Plymouth and Thurrock in Essex.
The Group currently operates around 3,000 vehicles and trailers from 13 distribution centres.
Unite also raised concerns about the proposal, because of its past relations with Eddie Stobart. In 2012, Unite was involved in a long-running dispute when Tesco in Doncaster transferred 184 workers the haulage firm. It said drivers were then issued with a termination of employment notice with no prospect of re-employment.
Eddie Stobart “has proved to be ruthless in its treatment of such workers, as its behaviour at Doncaster proves only too clearly”, said Mr Jones.
He added: “Eddie Stobart’s approach to industrial relations compared to the ethos of the co-operative movement is like ‘chalk-and-cheese’.
“The Co-op Group has been through some difficult times recently during which Unite was extremely supportive. We are, therefore, very disappointed by this announcement.
“The Co-op’s Christmas retail figures were encouraging, but we see this decision as a big retrograde step.
“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.
“But the management has declined to give us that opportunity, which is a great shame given the long-standing ethical values of the Co-op.”