'An attack on one is an attack on all'

DHL Dartford strike ballot over suspended union rep mirrors company-wide ‘union busting’, says Unite

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More than 350 DHL staff at Sainsbury’s Dartford regional distribution centre are being balloted for industrial action after a Unite representative’s ‘completely unjustified’ suspension for representing a member of staff.

The ballot comes after a number of incidents of attempted ‘union busting’ at DHL sites across the country. Unite, the UK’s leading union, believes the deterioration of industrial relations is linked to DHL’s management ‘testing the waters during the uncertainty of the pandemic to see if union activity, and the protections it affords staff, can be weakened’.

The Dartford Sainsbury’s regional distribution ballot was called after a Unite steward, who was providing support to a member of staff during an investigation hearing, was suspended for challenging a DHL managers’ version of events.

The reason given for the suspension by the manager was that the Unite steward was being aggressive – an accusation flatly contradicted by a neutral member of staff who was present at the meeting as a third party.

In December, DHL managers called police ‘at least 10 times’ to a peaceful picket line in the Croxeth area of Liverpool. The picket line was made up of DHL workers on the Burton Biscuits contract, who are striking over low pay, victimisation of workers and the complete collapse of industrial relations.

DHL union reps have also been targeted or disregarded at other sites in Halewood, Merseyside, and Solihull, West Midlands, in recent weeks.

Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said, “DHL HGV drivers, clerks and warehouse operatives at Sainsbury’s Dartford warehouse are being balloted for industrial action. This is in response to the completely unjustified suspension of a Unite steward for representing a staff member.

“The baseless accusation of aggression by a single manager used to carry out the suspension has been flatly contradicted by a neutral staff member who was present at the meeting,” he added. “Unfortunately, the suspension is the not the first instance at the Sainsbury’s site where union members have been targeted.

“An attack on one is an attack on all and our DHL Dartford members are keenly aware that should this be allowed to stand it will herald further attempts to erode employment standards and worker protections at the site.

“Sainsbury’s will not be pleased to learn they are facing potential disruption to their supply chain in the run up to the Easter period, which will affect the availability of chocolate eggs and other Easter provisions, because of DHL’s anti-union agenda,” Silkstone continued.

“Unite would much prefer an amicable relationship with DHL and does not want to witness empty shelves at Sainsbury’s stores, so we urge the company to see sense, get around the table and revoke this unfounded suspension.”

Unite national officer Matt Draper said, “A recent change in the management structure at DHL has led to a number of worrying incidents at different sites where union reps and staff have been targeted. Before this recent trend of attempted union busting, Unite had, on the whole, a constructive relationship with DHL.

“We believe the breakdown in industrial relations is due to a new approach by management, who seem to be testing the waters during the uncertainty of the pandemic to see if union activity, and the protections it affords to staff, can be weakened,” he added.

“To our members this can only be seen as a prelude to attempts erode pay, terms and conditions. DHL’s national leadership should be aware that Unite will under no circumstances let this happen. We urge the company to press reset so both the union and the company can go back to working productively for the best interests of staff.”

By Ryan Fletcher

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