Co-op customers to be hit by delays to fresh fruit & veg as drivers strike

Deliveries of fresh produce – a top business priority for the Co-op – will be severely hit when more than 700 of its drivers stage a two-day strike next week in the dispute over transferring drivers to controversial haulier Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL), says the Unite Union.

Customers seeking fresh milk, fruit and vegetables could be disappointed as deliveries to UK Co-op stores will be seriously affected as the drivers strike for 48 hours from 00.01 on Monday (21 March). The strike will be accompanied by a continuous work to rule.

The dispute centres on the decision by the Co-op group to transfer 87 Coventry-based drivers to ESL. This sparked the overwhelming vote for strike action by drivers across the UK concerned about the implications of future outsourcing of their jobs on pay and employment conditions.

The majority of the Coventry drivers are considering taking a severance package offered by the management as they are disgusted at the way they have been treated by the ‘ethical’ Co-op and fearful at the treatment they would receive if they were TUPE’d [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] to ESL.

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.

Unite, the country’s largest union, is due to hold talks with the Co-op management under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas tomorrow (Friday 18 March). Unite wants the talks to investigate the comprehensive list of suggestions by the Coventry shop stewards to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Unite national officer for retail distribution Adrian Jones said: “Our Coventry members are caught between a rock and a hard place.

“They are angry that the so-called ethical Co-op has betrayed their years of dedicated service, but have no wish to work for ESL, an employer that has a very poor reputation in the way it treats its staff. They are prepared to wash their hands of both these two tainted organisations, unless other options can be agreed.

“The 48-hour strike will be felt by Co-op customers across the UK. The Co-op has the delivery of fresh produce, such as milk and fruit and veg, as a top business priority in the battle for supermarket sales. This will be severely disrupted with the knock-on impact for its reputation with customers.”

The Co-op driver members striking are based at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland; Castlewood, north Derbyshire; Chester-Le-Street, County Durham; Coventry; Inverness; Newhouse, Lanarkshire; Plymouth and Thurrock in Essex.

Unite is mounting a legal challenge to elements of the Co-op’s severance package as an attack on workers’ rights. The Co-op bosses are demanding that no driver will be able to re-apply for a role with the Co-op until 2 October 2016 and if they take strike action the severance offer will be immediately withdrawn.

Adrian Jones added: “These macho-management tactics are not the way to deal with this dispute; throwing money at the problem for it to go away does not address the crux of the dispute – that our members don’t want to be transferred to employers with ESL’s controversial reputation.”

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