The threat of a general strike by members of the GMB Union at Asda distribution depos has emerged as the GMB announced its intention to seek authority from the Union Executive Council on Monday (27 February) to hold an official national strike ballot.

According to the union, Asda has followed a long-term policy designed to erode its ability to represent the interests members who work for the subsidiary of US retail giant Wal-Mart.

Jude Brimble, the GMB national officer responsible for Asda, said: “There is a litany of things Asda has done to upset GMB members in the company. There is Asda’s termination of collective bargaining in the stores; the well funded and illegal anti union campaigns in Tyne and Wear to prevent and undermine collective bargaining; the unilateral refusal to pay a bonus in 2006 to 100,000 of the 140,000 low paid employees in spite of making GBP650m profits; and the persistence with introducing hazardous “pick rates” in the depots. Now Asda have pushed GMB members too far.”

The flash point of ongoing hostility is Asda’s distribution depot in Dartford. Marie Gill, head of industrial relations for Asda Distribution wrote to the GMB on 6th February, seeking to conclude an agreement “to modernise the current outdated collective agreement at Dartford.” The letter continued: “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 will have to be terminated.” Employees at Dartford were informed that the termination date was 28 February.

Asda denies that it has attempted to undermine the presence of the union. “There is absolutely no drive to undermine the power of the union,” Asda spokesperson Nick Agarwal told just-food. “We want to change the agreement at Dartford because it is outdated.”

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Aqarwal said that the company wanted to replace the current collective bargaining agreement with an updated version: the present one, he said, was inherited from the depos previous owners and fails to look at things like email policy.

However, a GMB representative speaking to just-food characterised the collective bargaining agreement that Asda seeks to reach as “toothless”, suggesting that it would reduce the union’s power to a token presence.

If GMB members were to strike, the move could be highly damaging to Asda, reducing the company’s ability to move products to stores around the country.