The prospect of a crisp ‘famine’ in the North West of England has become a stark possibility as corner shops, pubs and supermarkets face supply shortages amid a strike threat from lorry drivers on a Walkers contract.
Drivers employed by Eddie Stobart in Warrington to deliver Walkers snacks have announced two series of strikes – the first from May 31 to June 4 and the second from June 7 to June 11. An overtime ban will also run on May 30, June 5 and 6, and June 12.
The first series of strikes will coincide with the final game, on June 1, of the UEFA Champions League, of which Walkers is an official sponsor.
The lorry drivers, who were transferred from Walkers Snack Foods to Eddie Stobart under the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations last year, are angry that Stobart’s bosses are refusing to honour an existing industrial agreement that protects their pay and terms and conditions.
Before being transferred to Eddie Stobart, lorry drivers had a good working relation with Walkers, but this is now threatened by Stobart management’s refusal to negotiate.
The lorry drivers’ anger has fuelled a virtually unanimous vote for strike action – on a turnout of 95.2 per cent, workers recorded a 100 per cent ‘yes’ vote for strike action.
Unite regional officer Steve Gerrard slammed the “high handed actions of Eddie Stobart’s management.
“Eddie Stobart is refusing to honour the long standing legal industrial agreements that protect our members pay and conditions,” he said. “Workers aren’t going to stand idly by and allow their hard won rights to be demolished.
“Unite has made numerous attempts to engage with Eddie Stobart to resolve this dispute and has been continually rebuffed,” Gerrard added. “This strike is entirely of Stobart’s own making and they can resolve the dispute by agreeing to meaningful negotiations with Unite.”
Unite national officer Adrian Jones agreed.
“It is a sad indictment of Eddie Stobart that workers often face the salami-slicing of their pay, terms and conditions once they are transferred to the company, which has built a reputation for treating their loyal workforce poorly,” he explained.
“That Eddie Stobart has seen its profits more than double recently and its revenue jump by a third – driven specifically by new contract wins including the Walkers contract – makes Stobart management’s hard-line stance all the more unjustifiable.”
“But it’s not just on the Walkers contract that the company has treated its workers with disdain,” Jones noted. “Eddie Stobart has confirmed that they have postponed discussions on a pay increase for the wider driver network until October due to Brexit uncertainty. This is total nonsense and nothing but an excuse from the company to avoid paying drivers a decent wage.
“On top of all of this a Unite shop steward was dismissed by the company last week, which only adds to the poor reputation of this company.”
Jones warned that Walkers too may “face reputational damage if supplies of Britain’s favourite crisps are threatened by strikes in the North West, especially during the final game of the Champions League, of which Walkers is an ostensibly proud sponsor.
“This can all be avoided if Eddie Stobart comes to the table and negotiates in good faith with Unite – our members are ready as ever to avoid strike action and resolve this dispute.”