GMB shop stewards met in Manchester yesterday to plan strike action after members of the union at 20 Asda Wal-Mart distribution depots voted decisively by a majority of three to one to fight over their union rights, pay and working conditions.
‘GMB members in the 20 Asda Wal-Mart depots have spoken,’ said GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny, following the announcement of the strike vote on Wednesday.
‘They have voted by three to one to take action, despite all of the company’s attempts to dissuade or intimidate them to vote no.
‘GMB members have been subjected to unprecedented interference and propaganda by Asda Wal-Mart.
‘This ballot result shows that it is time for Asda Wal-Mart to wake up and smell the coffee.’
Kenny added: ‘GMB members tell us that the company is gearing up and may illegally attempt to use agency labour to do our members jobs.
‘This is what is behind the company statement that in the event of industrial action the customers will not notice a thing.
‘Using agency labour during an official trade dispute is illegal and GMB will not allow Asda Wal-Mart to run a coach and horses through UK labour law.
‘Any attempt by outside agencies to interfere or undermine this lawful industrial action by GMB members will be responded to with full vigour.’
GMB members who were balloted on strike action work as HGV drivers and warehouse pickers and loaders at Asda Wal-Mart depots including Bedford, Chepstow, Dartford, Didcot, Erith, Falkirk, Grangemouth, Ince George in Wigan, Lymedale Staffordshire, Lutterworth in Leicestershire, Portbury in Bristol, Skelmersdale, Teesport, ADC Wigan, Wakefield and Washington.
‘They move 30,000 tonnes per day of ambient, fresh, chilled and frozen produce from 20 distribution depots to 300 Asda Wal-Mart stores around the country,’ the GMB said.
‘GMB members at Asda Wal-Mart’s distribution depots want to see the establishment of proper national bargaining structures between the company and GMB covering pay, conditions and union facilities in all 20 distribution depots.
‘Once established the first thing GMB members employed in the depots want is an agreement, via the new national negotiating structures, that Asda Wal-Mart pay the unpaid 2005 bonus of £300 per worker.
‘The second issue GMB members in the depots want dealt with via the new national negotiating structures is an end to the unilateral introduction of new technology leading to higher work rates in the depots, which health and safety experts say will seriously injure GMB members over a long period of time.
‘GMB members want an agreement that safe work rates are established by a panel of independent experts.’
The union has 25,000 members working in Asda Wal-Mart’s 300-plus stores across the UK and 20 distribution depots, out of a total workforce of 140,000.
The GMB has collective bargaining rights in nine of the 20 depots.
It has members in other depots, but is not recognised for bargaining purposes.
The GMB is the recognised trade union in the Asda stores, but collective bargaining rights were withdrawn in the 1990s.
GMB earlier this week wrote to about 70 employment agencies warning them of ‘the severe penalties if they unwittingly break the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003’, which came into force in April 2004.
The union said its members ‘have reported that these agencies are currently pre-loading staff into the depots.
‘GMB members consider that they have been employed to break the strike in the event of a “Yes’’ (to strike action).
‘GMB members report that the depots are currently overstaffed with agency workers.’
The union quotes from the the 2003 regulations (Part ll General Obligations, regulation 7, ‘restriction on providing work-seekers in industrial disputes’).
It says: ‘an employment business may not supply a temporary worker to a hirer to replace an individual taking part in an official strike or any other official industrial dispute.
‘In addition, an employment business must not introduce or supply a work-seeker to do the work of someone who has been transferred by the hirer to perform the duties of the person on strike or taking industrial action.
‘An employment business will have a legal defence to having acted in breach of this regulation if it does not know, or has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that official strike action is in progress.’
The GMB added: ‘Regulation 7(2) provides that this regulation applies to official strike action.
‘If an agency or business has not complied with the regulations:
l ‘it can be sued for damages by anyone who suffers loss or injury as a result of that failure.
l ‘the DTI can initiate a criminal prosecution against it (the maximum penalty is a fine of up to £5,000 per offence) and a ten year ban.
l ‘any contractual term that contravenes the Regulations is unenforceable (though the remainder of the contract may still be enforceable).
‘This is in addition to the DTI’s power to apply to an employment tribunal to have someone declared unsuitable to carry on, or be concerned with, an employment agency or business.’
Earlier this year, said the GMB, Asda Wal-Mart ‘unilaterally decided that the level of profit of £775 million was below the unilaterally set target of £850 million to enable them to pay bonus to 100,000 out of the 140,000 staff employed in the UK.’
In response, the GMB Food and Leisure Section National Committee agreed to hold ‘a national consultative ballot’ for members employed in the company’s stores and depots ‘on the company failure to pay bonus’.
The GMB is demanding that the performance bonus be consolidated into basic rates at £6.00 per week for staff ‘since they can have no impact on the remote national sales or profit targets’.
The union added: ‘The consultative ballot for the stores is going ahead.
‘The issue for the depots will be dealt with once the new national bargaining arrangements GMB members seek are in place.
The union also said: ‘Asda Wal-Mart is using the attempted introduction of radio frequency voice picking at the Asda Wal-Mart distribution warehouse at Wigan and other depots to increase the daily pick rate from 1,100 boxes per person to 1,400 boxes per person.
‘The weight and shape of the boxes varies considerably and the weight ranges from two to 20 kilos, depending on what they contain.
‘At the current 1,100 pick rate each worker shifts between two and 10 or more tons of products each day.
‘Ten tons is the equivalent of the weight of five motor cars.
‘Workers in warehouses are at serious risk of muscular injuries to their backs, knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders if they lift too much weight too quickly over a prolonged period,’ the union warned.
It has also attacked the company for engaging PR consultants Portland, ‘set up by Tim Allan, former press secretary to Tony Blair’ to engage in ‘two anti-union campaigns in Tyne and Wear’.
The union said: ‘An Employment tribunal in Newcastle upon Tyne on 10th February 2006 penalised Asda Wal-Mart the tune of £850,000 for inducing employees to give up collective bargaining.
‘Asda Wal-Mart was ordered to pay £2,500 in compensation to each of the 340 GMB members that Asda Wal-Mart, with the help of Portland PR, tried to induce to give up their employment rights.’