Tesco staff in Northern Ireland ready to strike before Christmas after 4% pay rise rejected

A trade union has said that Tesco customers “face empty shelves ahead of Christmas”, amid a wage dispute with the grocery giant.

Monday, 6th December 2021, 6:00 am
The Unite union held a ballot with Tesco staff on strike action in November

Unite has rejected a 4% pay hike, and as a result many of its members in Co Antrim are preparing for strike action.

This walk-out will be on December 16, unless a better pay offer is forthcoming.

Unite announced its plans in a statement yesterday, saying that its union negotiators have spurned the firm’s “derisory pay offer”.

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Unite had initially warned of the possibility of a strike several weeks ago; a ballot on the proposal closed on November 26.

Now the union has confirmed that its warehouse workers and lorry drivers at depots in Belfast and Antrim will participate in the industrial action (much of Tesco’s in-store staff are represented by a different union, USDAW).

There are similar strike plans for Didcot and Doncaster in England, with Unite stressing that all of this “poses the likelihood of severe disruption to Tesco supplies across Northern Ireland”.

The union says that the 4% pay bump on the table is below the rate of inflation, as measured by the Retail Price Index.

Any pay rises which do not keep pace with inflation are often described as real-terms pay cuts.

However, it depends how inflation is actually measured.

The Retail Prices Index has fallen from favour in recent times as a way of calculating inflation.

Instead the UK government opts for something called the Consumer Prices Index.

Using this Consumer Prices Index, the government calculates that the current rate of inflation is only 3.8%.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled throughout the pandemic.

“Tesco’s profits in 2021 are forecast to be between £2.5 and £2.6bn. So surely the UK and Ireland’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making our members a decent pay offer.”

The union said the December 16 work stoppage will begin at 7am.

It could then be followed by a five-day stoppage from Monday, December 20.

Unite regional officer George Brash said: “This strike is a last resort for our members having exhausted all other options but they are refusing to accept a derisory, real terms cut to pay.

“Even at this late stage, it is not too late for Tesco bosses to avoid severe disruption by making a greatly improved offer and returning to the negotiating table.”

Tesco said: “Our distribution colleagues have worked tirelessly through the pandemic ... the pay offer we’ve made is a fair recognition of this, and is one of the highest awards made within our distribution business in the last 25 years.

“We welcome the decision by colleagues at the sites who have voted against industrial action. We’re disappointed some have voted to proceed, and we have contingency plans to help mitigate any impacts. We’ve worked hard to deliver Christmas for our customers and are confident we’ll be able to.”