Tesco shoppers face empty shelves over Christmas strike action

·3-min read
A sign apologising to customers for a lack of stock is pictured above an empty Tesco shelf
A sign apologising to customers for a lack of stock is pictured above an empty Tesco shelf

Tesco shoppers face the prospect of empty supermarket shelves over Christmas, as warehouse and delivery workers strike over pay, the Unite union has warned.

More than 1,000 HGV drivers and warehouse staff at four of Tesco’s distribution centres have voted to strike from December 16, leaving Britain’s biggest supermarket having to redirect supplies.

Unite said the strikes – in Didcot in Oxfordshire, Doncaster, and Antrim and Belfast in Northern Ireland – would mean “Tesco shoppers in many parts of the UK face empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas”.

A further strike is possible at Tesco’s biggest delivery depot in the UK, in Livingston in West Lothian, with the results of a ballot on industrial action to close today. The union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is also balloting Tesco employees about potential strike action.

Tesco has offered workers a 4pc pay increase, up from a previous 2.5pc proposal, but Unite said this amounted to a real terms pay cut, due to the six per cent rise in the retail price index, one measure of inflation. The commonly-used consumer price index was 4.2 per cent in October.

Workers in Didcot and Doncaster are due to strike for 12 days in total, including the five days leading up to December 25, and a 48 hour strike from December 16 – a key period for online deliveries that are fulfilled at Tesco’s stores. Further strikes are planned after Christmas and in the new year.

Those in Northern Ireland will strike “continuously” from December 16, the union said.

Tesco has around 20 distribution centres in the UK and Unite has said the strikes will affect Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and the south of England.

The company said it was taking steps to limit the damage from the strikes and that it was “confident” it would be able to manage.

It said the 4pc pay offer was among its most generous in recent history.

It is believed negotiations with Unite continue, which could avert a strike.

A rainbow arches up into the sky above a Morrisons supermarket sign - Graham Hunt /Alamy Live News
A rainbow arches up into the sky above a Morrisons supermarket sign - Graham Hunt /Alamy Live News

A Tesco spokesman said: “Our distribution colleagues have worked tirelessly through the pandemic in order to keep products moving for customers. The pay offer we have made is a fair recognition of this, and is one of the highest awards made within our distribution business in the last 25 years, building on our highly competitive pay and rewards package.

“We welcome the decision by our colleagues at the sites who have voted against industrial action. We are disappointed that some have voted to proceed, and we have contingency plans in place to help mitigate any impacts. We have worked hard to deliver Christmas for our customers and are confident we will be able to fulfil our plans.”

Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled throughout the pandemic.

“At the very least, the UK’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making our members a decent pay offer.”

Last week, Morrisons warehouse workers called off Christmas strikes after accepting a 5pc pay rise from the supermarket.

The strike action threatens to add to supply chain disruptions over the festive period, with supermarkets still reeling from a driver shortage and Covid-induced transport problems. Last week, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association wrote to ministers warning of Christmas shortages.

Unite national officer Adam Jones said it considered industrial action to be “a last resort having exhausted all other options”.

Tesco’s chief executive Ken Murphy has said the supermarket is lowering prices in the run up to Christmas and that it is confident of supplies.

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