Belfast Telegraph

Delivery drivers walkout won't affect shops: Co-op

By Linda Stewart

The Co-op has insisted there will be no empty shelves in its stores in Northern Ireland next week when more than 700 delivery drivers across the UK go on a two-day strike.

Drivers in Carrickfergus will be among the Unite union members on a 48-hour strike from midnight on Monday in a dispute over transferring drivers to haulier Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL).

The union claims deliveries of fresh produce including milk, fruit and vegetables, could be severely hit by the strike, which will be accompanied by a continuous work to rule.

Unite says the dispute centres on the decision by the Co-op group to transfer 87 Coventry-based drivers to ESL, sparking an 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.

It says the majority of the Coventry drivers are considering taking a severance package as they are concerned about how they would be treated if they were transferred to ESL.

Unite said it had become embroiled in a long-running dispute with Tesco when its Doncaster operation transferred 184 workers to ESL and the drivers were issued with a termination of employment notice with no prospect of re-employment.

The union said it is due to hold talks with the Co-op management under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas, today and it wants the talks to investigate the list of suggestions made 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.

A Co-op spokesperson said:"Product availability will be unaffected by the proposed strike and we are in talks with the union at Acas tomorrow to resolve the matter."

A spokesman for ESL said: "Eddie Stobart is pleased to be working with the Co-op."

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