Tesco averts pre-Christmas strike threat in UK with increased pay offer

Tesco has seen off the threat of a strike by workers at nine distribution centres after agreeing to a new pay deal with trade union Usdaw



14 December 2021

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Tesco has managed to avert the threat of a pre-Christmas strike by workers at nine distribution centres by agreeing to a new pay deal with trade union Usdaw.

The news comes after Britain’s biggest supermarket chain last week separately reached an agreement with Unite, another union, to prevent industrial action at four further warehouses – again after an improved pay offer.

“After the overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action, Tesco reopened pay negotiations with Usdaw,” said Usdaw national officer Joanne McGuinness.

“I am pleased to say that we have been successful in achieving a significantly improved offer and Usdaw is recommending that members accept it in the ballot,” she added.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to have agreed a pay deal with Usdaw that it recommends to its members.

“Colleagues at these centres will no longer be taking industrial action. We look forward to delivering a fantastic Christmas for customers.”


Up until last week, Tesco had faced the threat of strike action by thousands of distribution staff at more than half of its depots in the UK and Northern Ireland in the weeks leading up to Christmas and on into the new year.

The potential disruption was due to workers at 13 out of 22 Tesco regional distribution centres across the UK and Northern Ireland voting in favour of strike action over pay. 4% pay rise Tesco had offered workers who are members of the Unite and Usdaw unions a 4% pay rise, which they had both rejected.

Unite said the pay rise offered by the firm was “well below” the 6% rate of inflation. However, last week, Unite said it had since decided to recommend that its members accept the supermarket group’s new offer of a minimum of a 5.5% pay increase backdated to July 2021 and an additional 0.5% from February 2022.

If the strikes had gone ahead, Unite members at the Antrim and Belfast Tesco distribution centres would have begun an all-out continuous strike from 7am on 16 December.

‘Above and beyond’

Sharon Graham, secretary-general at Unite, said her members “have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep Tesco’s shelves filled throughout the pandemic”. “At the very least, the UK’s largest and wealthiest retailer should be making our members a decent pay offer,” she said.

Meanwhile, the 5,000 staff represented by Usdaw union, at nine distribution centres in the UK had previously said they would also take industrial action from 20 December until Christmas Eve. Usdaw said its members had voted to take action at sites in Daventry, Goole, Hinckley, Lichfield, Livingston, Magor in south Wales Peterborough and Southampton.

Joanne McGuinness, national officer of Usdaw, said: “Industrial action and possible stock shortages in stores in the week before Christmas can be avoided. It needs the company to engage positively in talks with Usdaw and we stand ready to reopen negotiations.”

Labour shortage

The labour shortage in the distribution sector has been acute since many workers returned to Eastern Europe during the pandemic, meaning retailers have had to pay more to attract and retain warehouse staff and drivers especially. Many of these staff are making more than the £9.55 per hour benchmark paid to store staff which is the basis of several major equal-pay lawsuits ongoing in the UK.

With regard to the 4% rise, Tesco said that the pay offer it had made was one of the highest in the past 25 years, noting that distribution staff “have worked tirelessly through the pandemic”. It added that it was “disappointed” by the votes for strike action but had “contingency plans in place to help mitigate any impacts. We have worked hard to deliver Christmas for our customers and are confident we will be able to fulfil our plans,” a spokesperson had said at the time.

Ballot at Asda

Meanwhile, Asda is also facing the prospect of strike action ahead of the key Christmas trading season. The GMB union said it was launching a consultative ballot – due to close on 20 December – over the supermarket chain’s decision not to give distribution staff a “meaningful” pay offer. It added that with inflation “rampant”, the situation was a “kick in the teeth” for its key workers. The ballot would go to a full vote with any resounding indication of support for strikes, meaning there is no prospect of disruption at Asda until the New Year.



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