Wal-Mart UK staff to strike over working conditions

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trade union Asda

Members of Britain's GMB workers' union have voted three to one in
favour of industrial action against Asda Wal-Mart, following months
of dispute over pay and collective bargaining rights in depots
around the country.

The GMB union, which represents around 40 per cent of Asda's distribution centre staff, said nearly 75 per cent of those who voted supported strike action - making the UK the first country to officially protest Wal-Mart's controversial global approach to human resources.

Following the results of a national ballot last week, a five-day walkout has been planned for 20 depots around the country starting 30 June. Further industrial action has also been proposed, including a "comprehensive programme"​ to disrupt supply chain operations.

But Asda officials refute claims that strike action will impact in-store supplies ahead of the anticipated busy trading weekend, which will see shoppers stocking up for England's World Cup quarter final match on Saturday.

GMB members set to take part in the strike include HGV drivers and warehouse pickers and loaders. 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.

"This decision to set a comprehensive programme of industrial action shows that GMB members are determined to win national collective bargaining rights which are common across British industry,"​ said GMB national officer Phil Davies.

"There appears to be a clear clash of cultures between the way workers do business in Britain and the way Wal-Mart does business. It is significant that the strike dates set by the shop stewards cover Independence Day because GMB members want independence from the anti-trade union tactics of Wal-Mart worldwide,"​ he added.

The union is calling for the establishment of proper national bargaining structures between the company and the GMB covering pay, conditions and union facilities in all 20 distribution depots.

If established, GMB members will push for a resolution on outstanding bonus payments from 2005, at around £300 per worker.

They will also fight for an end to the unilateral introduction of new RFID technology they claim has led to a higher workload for depot staff.

At the current 1,100 pick rate each worker shifts between two and 10 tonnes of product each day - about the weight of five cars. The new technology has increased this to 1,400 each day, and the GMB claims warehouse workers are now "at serious risk of muscular injuries to their backs, knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders".

The upcoming strike action follows months of animosity between Asda bosses and distribution staff, which led to the US-owned chain being fined £850,000 at a court in Newcastle in February.

The employment tribunal found the supermarket chain guilty of promising 340 distribution staff a 10 per cent pay rise to give up the collective bargaining right negotiated by their union - an act which is illegal under 1992 labour relations law.

The court ordered Asda to pay £2,500 to each employee at the County Durham depot.

Last year Asda's treatment of workers was widely condemned by unions and the War on Want charity that claimed the firm had drawn up a "chip away strategy"​ to reduce costs and increase productivity.

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