Union boss warns of ‘bare shelves before Christmas’ in Northern Irish Tesco supermarkets as workers set to vote on pay deal strike action

Tesco's giant south Belfast warehouseTesco's giant south Belfast warehouse
Tesco's giant south Belfast warehouse
Tesco workers belonging to Unite the Union are being asked to vote on strike action amid discontent over a pay rise proposal.

The union said tonight that it affects lorry drivers and warehouse workers at the supermarket’s huge distribution depot in Belfast, based off Boucher Road in the city’s south.

Unite also said that a walkout by workers could well leave shoppers facing “empty shelves” in the run-up to Christmas.

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Union officials say the root cause is an offer of a 4% pay rise.

They point out that this is below the current rate of inflation as measured using the Retail Prices Index (RPI).

However, the devil is all in the detail.

RPI is often regarded as an old-fashioned calculation, with stats experts arguing that it tends to exaggerate the inflation rate.

As such, RPI is being phased out by British economists, and instead the main way of measuing inflation has become the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

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The CPI shows inflation currently stands at 3.1% – meaning a 4% bump would be a genuine pay rise for the staff, albeit of a fraction of one percent.

The most recent financial results for Tesco PLC came out earlier in the month.

They show that for the most recent six-month period, the entire Tesco group had a statutory profit after tax of £830m – a huge jump from £397m during the same six-month period a year earlier.

CEO Ken Murphy said in a message to shareholders: “This was a strong team effort and I would particularly like to recognise and thank our colleagues who continue to do an incredible job in difficult times.”

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George Brash, Unite’s regional leader for Tesco workers, said: “Given the existing difficulties in trade from GB to Northern Ireland, any strike action in the Belfast hub would likely have a devastating impact on Tesco’s operations here; we would be looking at bare shelves at stores across the region in the run up to Christmas.

“If there are empty shelves leading up to Christmas then consumers should understand that the fault is entirely of Tesco’s own making where shameful greed and profiteering is valued above transport and warehouse workers, who are the blood of the supply chain, working tirelessly through a global pandemic to feed the nation.

The strike ballot in Belfast will open next Tuesday, November 2, and close on November 26.

Tesco has been contacted, but there was no response at time of writing.

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