Trade union Unite has announced it is balloting HGV drivers at the Co-op Group’s distribution depot at West Thurrock, alleging ‘appalling treatment’ of three disabled workers.
Unite says its members, who deliver to 600 Co-op stories in London and the South East, are “extremely angry that three of their colleagues have been dismissed or are facing dismissal due to their disabilities”.
It claims the disabled drivers have for many years been given work they have been able to undertake, but this work is no longer available because of outsourcing or internal reorganisation.
The union says it called for the workers to be given redundancy.
But it claims: “The local Co-op management rejected this approach and instead opted to use a capability process which resulted in two of the workers being sacked and the third expecting the same treatment in the near future.”
Unite regional officer Paul Travers said: “The Co-op has acted in an appalling manner. We have argued that the disabled drivers should have been made redundant because their revised duties were agreed under the Equalities Act as reasonable adjustments. The company knows the drivers are unable to deliver to stores and has been happy for them to undertake other driving roles, when it suited it and now it just wants to discard them.”
A spokesperson for the Co-op Group told Co-op News: “The Co-op is committed to equal opportunities and will always try and make adjustments to accommodate the different abilities of colleagues and have done so in this case.
“We have tried to seek alternative roles for the two colleagues but the roles found have not been suitable for them. Clearly colleagues leaving our business in this way is a last resort.
“We are disappointed that we have not been able to resolve this through our agreed process. We have offered to speak with representatives of Unite to see if this can be resolved in the interests of our colleagues and its members.”
The union says it is initially undertaking a consultative ballot of the workforce before proceeding to a full industrial action ballot.
It warns that, if the matter is not resolved, industrial action will occur in the weeks preceding Halloween and Bonfire Night, threatening “widespread disruption”. and could also cause problems in the pre-Christmas period.
Paul Travers said: “Unite remain available to resolve this matter; however the Co-op just keep telling us they have acted lawfully – a point that Unite and our members fundamentally disagree with.”
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