Asda Wal-Mart national strike ballot

GMB Asda Wal-Mart depots launch national strike ballot following refusal of collective bargaining rights and non payment of 2005 bonuses.

GMB shop stewards at a meeting today in Manchester voted unanimously to commence the balloting process for a national strike in Asda Wal-Mart to secure collective bargaining at the 20 distribution depots and to secure payment of the 2005 bonus and safe work rates.

GMB members to be included in the ballot work at Asda Wal-Mart warehouse depots including Bedford, Brackmills George, 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. The Electoral Reforms Balloting Services will conduct the official strike ballot. GMB officials will shortly announce the date for the strike ballot to commence and the date that the ballot result will be declared.

On 11th April 2006 at a meeting in the House of Commons GMB and Asda Wal-Martarrived at an agreement covering recognition, bargaining rights and access for the union in the 20 distribution depots and access in the 302 stores. GMB suspended the plans for an official strike ballot in the depots pending the drawing up of official written agreements. Events in the depots and stores following that meeting cast doubt on the reality of the agreement. Two meetings between the company and GMB on 28th April and 2nd May 2006 confirmed that the company was no longer prepared to deliver this deal. The outcome of the meetings was conveyed to the GMB Shop Stewards meeting in Manchester today and they voted to begin the strike ballot process in all 20 depots.

GMB members in Asda Wal-Mart’s distribution depots want to secure proper national bargaining with the company covering pay, conditions and union facilities in all 20 distribution depots. The members employed in the depots want to see Asda Wal-Mart paying a bonus after the company made £775 million profit in 2005. The company unilaterally decided that the level of profit was too low to enable them to pay the site bonus of up to £300 per person (See Note 2 on page 2). GMB members in the depots are also unhappy with the unilateral introduction of new technology leading to higher work rates in the depots which health and safety experts say will seriously injury GMB members over a long period of time. (See Note 8 on page 3).

The national strike ballot was authorised by the GMB Central Executive Council on 27th February 2006 following a dispute that was provoked by the company at the Dartford depot. (See note 7).

This followed on from an earlier occasion in January 2005 when Asda Wal-Mart unsuccessfully sought a similar objective at their depot ADC Washington Tyne & Wear when they offered the work force a 10% pay rise if they would give up collective bargaining. On 10th February 2006 an Employment Tribunal in Newcastle on Tyne penalised Asda Wal-Mart to the tune of £850, 000 for attempting to induce employees to give up collective bargaining. (See Notes 3, 4, 5 and 6 on pages 2 & 3). The company have subsequently decided to appeal.

Jude Brimble, GMB National Officer for GMB members working in Asda Wal-Mart said, “GMB have spent over 20 hours in talks with the company to try to find a satisfactory resolution of the items in dispute. We though we had made progress but in the end we are back to square one.

GMB Shop Stewards told us quite clearly today that GMB members employed in the depots want to secure collective bargaining at the 20 distribution depots, the reinstatement of the 2005 bonus, and safe and healthy work rates. Asda Wal-Mart is not prepared to accept that pay and condition agreements need to be fair and fairly arrived at. The unanimous vote by the Shop Stewards to re-instate the strike ballot demonstrates that the members will not settle for less. We need a big vote for strike action to secure these reasonable objectives.”

Contact: GMB National Press Office: Steve Pryle on 07921 289880 or Jude Brimble on 07850 974198.
Notes to editors:

1 GMB union has 25, 000 members working in Asda Wal-Mart’s 300 plus stores and 20 distribution depots out of the total workforce of 140, 000. GMB has collective bargaining rights in a number of these depots. GMB has members in depots like RDC8 at Washington and others but is not recognised for bargaining purposes. In the stores GMB is the recognised Union but collective bargaining rights were withdrawn.

2 On 30th January 2006 GMB announced that the GMB Food and Leisure Section National Committee has agreed to a national consultative ballot to be held with members employed in the Asda Wal-Mart stores and the depots, on, amongst other things, the company failure to pay bonus to 100, 000 out of the 140, 000 staff. GMB is demanding that the performance bonus to be consolidated into basic rates at £5. 10 per week for staff since they can have no impact on the remote national sales or profit targets. The consultative ballot for the stores is going ahead but the issue for the depots will be included in this new official strike ballot.

3 In 2004 and 2005 Asda Wal-Mart engaged PR consultants Portland, set up by Tim Allan former press secretary to Tony Blair - in two anti union campaigns in Tyne and Wear. The object was to try to persuade ASDA workers to vote against collective bargaining rights. In the first campaign at RDC8 Washington in August 2004 Asda Wal-Mart, with the Portland PR material, stopped the GMB from gaining a majority in a Central Arbitration Committee ballot.

4 Asda Wal-Mart was penalised for Portland PR’s second campaign in Asda Wal-Mart’s ADC Washington depot in 2004 and 2005. 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. Asda Wal-Martoffered a 10% pay rise to the workers at ADC Washington on condition that they give up collective bargaining rights at the depot. Union members rejected the offer and Asda Wal-Martthen offered a pay rise of 3. 5% instead.

5 The Employment Tribunal judgement said of the Portland PR Asda Wal-Mart campaign literature, “One cannot describe this other than as very hostile to trade unions and highly disparaging of the process of collective bargaining.”

6 The extent to which GMB members can rely on what they are told by Asda Wal-Mart managers was a factor taken into account by the CEC when giving authority to ballot for strike action. (See Note 6 on page 2 about the reliability of what Asda Wal-Mart management and Ms Gill say. The full text of the Employment Tribunal is available on line at www. gmb. org. uk). The Employment Tribunal report says of the Asda Wal-Mart witnesses, “The Tribunal cannot accept that anyone of these witnesses was telling the truth about the nature and purpose of the ballot.” The tribunal said sources led it “to very seriously doubt Ms Gill’s propositions about the ballot.”

7 Marie Gill, Head of Industrial Relations for Asda Wal-Mart Distribution wrote to GMB on 6th February 2006, seeking to conclude an agreement “to modernise the current out dated collective agreement at Dartford.” Ms Gill added, “However, unless we can make substantial progress within the next four week in negotiations concerning the new agreement proposed for Dartford, the existing collective agreement between the GMB and Asda Wal-Mart will have to be terminated.”

8 Asda Wal-Mart is using the attempted introduction of radio frequency voice picking at the Asda Wal-Mart distribution warehouse in Wigan 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 2 to 20 kilos depending on what they contain. At the current 1, 100 pick rate each worker shifts between 2 and 10 or more tons of products each day. 10 tons is the equivalent of the weight of 5 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.

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libcom
May 10 2006 11:00

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