Belfast Telegraph

Tesco Christmas deliveries could be hit by workers' strike

By John Mulgrew

Christmas shopping for Tesco customers in Northern Ireland could be disrupted if workers here vote for strike action, one union has warned.

Unite has blasted the supermarket giant's "pitiful" failure to give a pay rise this year and 1.5% for 2016.

It said some 700 drivers and warehouse workers at hubs in Belfast and Doncaster will be balloted over strike action next week.

That could mean disruption for crucial deliveries in the run-up the festive season.

It claims more than 91% of members balloted rejected the proposed pay offer.

Unite's Adrian Jones said its members "have been working very hard to get Tesco to the position where the company can announce such promising results and be confident it has turned the corner of the challenges of recent years".

"We don't want favours from the company but we believe that the current offer is far below what it can afford and what our members deserve," he added.

"Unite members don't want to disrupt anyone's Christmas shopping, but without a proper pay increase thousands of workers will not be able to enjoy their own Christmas in the way they deserve.

"We urge Tesco to revise its pitiful pay offer and avoid potential industrial action in the run-up to Christmas."

Industrial action ballots are due to close on December 11 and the union says a vote to strike "could see deliveries to Tesco stores in Yorkshire and Northern Ireland disrupted in the run-up to Christmas with knock-on effects felt across the UK".

In response, Tesco said that it has been "engaged in dialogue" with unions for "the past several months".

"A two-year pay proposal has been fully recommended for acceptance by Usdaw across 20 of our sites and colleagues are currently voting on this offer," a spokesman said.

"Discussions continue with our colleagues represented by Unite and we have agreed to meet with all four of the Unite sites in their local bargaining groups by Wednesday of this week to continue the pay negotiations for these distribution centres."

Tesco said Unite's approach to hold a ballot for strike action is "clearly counterproductive".

"We have always been committed to pay discussions and this is surprising given Unite had initially agreed to new talks," it added.

"We want all of our distribution colleagues to support our turnaround plans, and work together to better serve our customers."

Meanwhile, interim profits at Tesco fell by more than half in the six months to August 29, but the supermarket insisted its overhaul was paying dividends in improved sales.

The chain revealed group-wide earnings had crashed to £354m, down from £779m during the same period in 2014.

The past 12 months have seen the company close stores at Connswater and Cregagh Road in east Belfast and Church Street in Ballymena. Tesco had also abandoned planned new builds in Armagh and Carryduff.

Despite this, it remains Northern Ireland's biggest supermarket group with around 55 stores.

Belfast Telegraph