Co-operative Group drivers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to be balloted about possible strike action over proposals to outsource jobs.
The Group plans to transfer 85 staff at the Coventry national distribution centre to Eddie Stobart Limited, saying the changes will allow re-investment and improvements in depot-to-store operations, which in turn will benefit customers and colleagues.
“We have been engaged in a lengthy period of discussion with all of our recognised trade unions regarding the proposal to outsource the trunking and primary operations,” said Andy Perry, director of logistics at the Co-operative Food, earlier in February. “Unfortunately, our current model cannot overcome the fundamental issue regarding the empty running of vehicles in both of these areas. This incurs a significant cost with no benefits.”
However Unite the Union, representing the drivers, say they are against the move as it could erode pay and terms and conditions, and even threaten jobs.
“We are very opposed to this proposed TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] 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,” said Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer for retail distribution.
“Our members want to stay with the Co-op and our members nationally are intent on supporting their colleagues in Coventry.”
Unite is balloting over 700 drivers about industrial action in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, Derbyshire, Coventry, Inverness, Lanarkshire and Thurrock between 1 – 14 March.
Mr Perry has moved to reassure drivers at the Group’s other sites that there are no plans to outsource the areas of secondary transport currently operated in-house or at any of its warehouse operations.
He said: “We are disappointed that a national ballot is being organised as we have agreed that all Unite drivers will see their terms and conditions protected when they transfer to Eddie Stobart Ltd.
“In addition, Eddie Stobart has also agreed to recognise Unite as the representative Union at our dedicated Co-op site as well as giving clear assurances on other items raised by the Trade Unions and colleagues through the consultation process.
“We are working hard to resolve the matter and are seeking to take the dispute to ACAS. We also continue to look at new alternatives to help provide drivers with a choice over their future should they simply not want to transfer and would hope to enter into meaningful discussions on this”.
But he added: “If unite members vote in favour of industrial action, which we expect them to do, we will serve notice to the Co-op of our intention to take action.”
- This article was edited on 28 February to include additional quotes from Mr Perry and Mr Jones.