A strike at Tesco could lead to empty shelves as Christmas approaches, union Unite said, after its members voted to step down unless offered a wage deal that kept pace with inflation.
The supermarket chain has offered staff a 4% pay rise, which Unite says is “offensive” given the retail price index’s inflation rate stands at 6%. Supply is also below the most commonly used consumer price index, which is at a 10-year high of 4.2%.
Discussions are said to be held in a bid to avoid action that would add to the nationwide supply chain disruption that has already triggered warnings of food and drink shortages over Christmas.
If the company does not improve its offer, Unite said warehouse workers and truck drivers at the Doncaster, Didcot, Belfast and Antrim depots will begin a series of rotating strikes from December 16.
Nine more warehouses could be affected, depending on the outcome of a separate vote on industrial action by the Usdaw Stores Workers Union, which ends Monday.
Any industrial action is likely to disrupt deliveries to Tesco stores across the country as Christmas approaches.
“Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves stocked throughout the pandemic,” said Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham.
“At the very least, the UK’s biggest and richest retailer should be giving our members a decent pay offer. “
The union said its members were particularly angry at the offer of below-inflation pay – a “real wage cut” – as the supermarket said it was about to declare a profit. Annual operations of up to £ 2.6 billion.
The union said it was going on strike as a last resort, after exhausting all other options, and warned of serious disruption without an improved offer.
If there isn’t one, Unite said the supermarket sites in Didcot and Doncaster will run a 48-hour shutdown starting at 6 a.m. on December 16, followed by a five-day shutdown from December 20. There would be another 48-hour shutdown starting December 30 and a three-day shutdown starting January 5.
Unite members at the Antrim and Belfast Tesco distribution centers are said to begin a continuous all-out strike from 7 a.m. on December 16.
The union is also voting for members for strike action at the Livingston distribution center, via a vote that ends Monday, which could trigger another strike before Christmas.
Tesco said its salary offer was a fair reflection of the tireless work done by staff during the pandemic and one of the highest awards in its distribution business in 25 years.
The company said some staff voted against the strike and that it had contingency plans to mitigate any impact.
“We have worked hard to bring Christmas to our customers and are confident that we will be able to deliver on our plans,” he said.