Strike action at Tesco could lead to empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas, the Unite trade union has said, after its members voted to walk out unless they are offered a pay deal that keeps pace with inflation.
The supermarket chain has offered staff a pay rise of 4%, which Unite has said is “offensive” given that the retail price index rate of inflation stands at 6%. The offer is also below the more commonly used consumer price index, which is at a 10-year high of 4.2%.
Discussions are understood to be taking place in an effort to avert action that would add to the countrywide supply chain disruption that has already triggered warnings of shortages of food and drink at Christmas.
If the company does not improve its offer, Unite said warehouse workers and HGV drivers at depots in Doncaster, Didcot, Belfast and Antrim would start a series of rolling strikes from 16 December.
A further nine warehouses could be affected, depending on the outcome of a separate vote on industrial action by the Usdaw shop workers’ union, which closes on Monday.
Any industrial action is likely to cause disruption to deliveries to Tesco stores around the country in the run-up to Christmas.
“Our members have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled throughout the pandemic,” said Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham.
“At the very least the UK’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making our members a decent pay offer.”
The trade union said its members were particularly angry at the below-inflation pay offer – a “real-terms pay cut” – because the supermarket has said it is on course to report an annual operating profit of as much as £2.6bn.
The union said it was taking strike action as a last resort, having exhausted all other options, and warned of severe disruption without an improved offer.
If one is not forthcoming, Unite said the supermarket’s Didcot and Doncaster sites would stage a 48-hour stoppage from 6am on 16 December, followed by a five-day stoppage beginning on 20 December. There would be another 48-hour stoppage starting on 30 December and a three-day stoppage beginning on 5 January.
Unite members at the Antrim and Belfast Tesco distribution centres would begin an all-out continuous strike from 7am on 16 December.
The union is also balloting members for strike action at the Livingston distribution centre, via a vote that closes on Monday, which could trigger another pre-Christmas strike.
Tesco said its pay offer was a fair reflection of the tireless work done by staff during the pandemic and one of the highest awards made within its distribution business in 25 years.
The company said some staff had voted against strike action, and that it had contingency plans to mitigate any impact.
“We have worked hard to deliver Christmas for our customers and are confident we will be able to fulfil our plans,” it said.