A bitter all-out strike by supermarket Tesco drivers in Yorkshire risks the future of union relations with dozens of major private employers across Britain, the Unite union warned today.
The union is backing drivers who are on indefinite strike against Britain's biggest supermarket chain and haulage firm Eddie Stobart.
In a cynical cash-saving decision in July, Tesco told the 180 drivers at its Doncaster distribution depot that their jobs were to be transferred to Eddie Stobart, whose distinctly liveried lorries are a common sight on Britain's motorways.
During a month of consultations the drivers offered concessions over working conditions and even pay cuts to avoid the transfer, but Tesco said there was no sacrifice the drivers could make which would save as much cash as awarding the Tesco contract to Stobart's - along with their jobs.
The transfer went ahead in August. Stobart issued the drivers with 90 days' notice of the sack on September 5.
The drivers were then told by Stobart that it would do the Tesco work with its existing workforce.
It appeared the whole transfer issue was a ploy to get rid of the drivers.
The drivers voted for strike action and walked out five times. They have demonstrated outside the Tesco Express store at Westminster to raise the profile of the strike.
They started an indefinite all-out strike last week Thursday and they staged a demonstration in Doncaster on Saturday.
The drivers have been picketing Tesco supermarkets, holding banners with the slogan: "You shop - we sack."
Unite regional officer Harriet Eisner said that if Tesco and Stobart are allowed to get away with their cynical action, they could set the pace for similar behaviour by other big employers.
She said that Unite was determined to win the dispute - but so is Stobart.
Ms Eisner said: "This is probably the shape of things to come unless we can demonstrate to large employers like Tesco and Stobart, with a global reputation, a huge media reputation, their place in the market, that they have got to stop doing this to workers."
She described the transfer and sacking of the drivers as "social dumping."
Deliveries from the Doncaster depot to Tesco stores across Yorkshire are being hit by the strike.
Some work has been transferred to another Tesco depot at Widnes in Lancashire, where drivers are members of a different union.
Ms Eisner said the drivers were very determined.
She said: "Not one of the drivers has gone in. Stobart has brought in agency and other drivers from all over the country.
Many didn't realise they were being conned into scabbing and turned back."
She appealed for public support on the picket line at the Doncaster depot at Middle Bank, Doncaster DN4 5JJ.
And the drivers have appealed for financial support.
Cheques should be made out to Unite the Union and sent to the Finance Dept, Leeds Regional Office, Unite, Transport House, 55 Call Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 7BW.
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