Talks to resolve the on-going industrial dispute between Asda, the UK unit of Wal-Mart, and the GMB union broke down yesterday (14 June), just a week before the result of a strike ballot of distribution workers and drivers is announced next Wednesday.
Asda chief executive, Andy Bond, met with the GMB’s Asda Shop Stewards and GMB national and local officials in Blackpool at the union’s annual congress. However, both sides of the dispute said that the meeting had failed to do anything to resolve their differences.
Union officials have been predicting a vote in favour of strike action at Asda supply warehouses over Asda’s decision not to recognise negotiating rights at nine of its 24 distribution depots.
However, an Asda spokesperson told just-food, the issue is not quite so clear-cut. “We had agreed to begin a process that could lead to collective bargaining rights, if that’s what our associates want. The reality is that this is not necessarily the case – we have very low union membership at some of our depots.”
If the strike were to go ahead it would be devastating for the day-to-day running of Asda stores, a GMB official told just-food today. “The depots deal with 30,000 tonnes of goods daily. If 30,000 tonnes of gear fails to be distributed it will have a massive effect on the running of all 300 Asda stores nationally,” he said.
The GMB also claims that Asda plans to use agency workers to replace those on strike, an illegal move to try and sidestep any consequences that industrial action would have.
Speaking to just-food, the GMB said that it had already identified two agencies that would supply workers.
“Next week, when we get back to London [after the congress], we will visit these agencies with a coach and horses to draw attention to draw attention to the fact that Asda intends to run a coach and horses through the law,” the union said.
Asda, however, claims that it has no intention of employing agency workers. “If there is industrial action,” the company told just-food, “we will try to minimize the effect on customers at our stores. But we will never do anything that is not within the confines of the law. We will absolutely not be using agency workers to replace those on strike.”