Unite accuses Co-op of privatising food distribution

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags The co-operative group British co-operative movement Somerfield

The Co-op's transport reorganisation "smacks of privatisation" claims Unite
The Co-op's transport reorganisation "smacks of privatisation" claims Unite
The Co-op's decision to reorganise its food distribution services in the south west "smacks of privatisation" and "soils its principles," claims Unite the union.

The union said yesterday (June 6) that the Co-op planned to merge its two distribution centres at Chelston and Portbury into a new centre in Avonmouth. Work at the new site would be contracted out to logistics firm Norbert Dentressangle.

About 200 jobs will be affected at the two sites, which are due to close in November 2012, said the union.

Its national officer for retail distribution, Matt Draper said: “This is the thin end of the wedge and the slippery slope to privatisation of the Co-op’s services. Clearly, this decision is soiling the Co-op’s 19th century founding principles of mutuality for the common good.”

The union said it planned to raise the matter with the Co-operative MPs in the Labour Party – numbering about 30 and also at the Co-op’s board meeting at the end of this month.

In breach

Matt Draper said that the Co-op was in breach of a previous agreement that it would not go down the ‘contracting out’ route. This follows the contracting out of work at the Andover distribution centre in Hampshire two years ago, which the Co-op said was a temporary measure in difficult economic times, he added.

“The fact that the Co-op has got the privatisation ‘bug’ is to be deplored. We believe that this will lead to job losses and a diminution in the terms and conditions of those still employed, with no guarantee that the level of service to the local Co-op shops will be maintained.

“We are asking the Co-op to re-think its decision to outsource this work to a private company – and will be seeking assurances from the Co-op that the jobs, and terms and conditions of our members will not be adversely affected.”

The Co-operative group confirmed last night that its distribution centre in Wellington, Somerset, is to close in November 2012, followed by Portbury, Bristol, in April 2013.

The closures were originally announced in September 2010, after a strategic review of its distribution network following the acquisition of Somerfield in 2009.

New distribution centre

The retailer said it was investing £20M in building a new regional distribution centre at Avonmouth, near Bristol, which will employ up to 900 staff and is due to open in September 2012.

The 40,483m2​ facility will serve about 492 Co-operative food stores in the Bristol, north Somerset and South Wales areas, and will replace several smaller depots in the region.

The Chelston depot, which employs around 340 staff at Chelston Business Park in Wellington, will close on Sunday November 25. That will be followed by Portbury, which has around 350 staff at Royal Portbury Docks, Bristol, on Sunday, April 7 2013.

All the staff at Chelston will be offered the opportunity to transfer to the new site or take voluntary redundancy, while employees at Portbury will transfer across under the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) Regulations.

Mark Leonard, the Co-operative Food’s head of logistics service, said: “We are due to take delivery of our new state-of-the-art distribution facility at Avonmouth in September, and work to get the site up and running will start right away with a phased transfer of operations from the former depots.

“As previously announced, our new regional distribution centre will replace a number of existing smaller depots in the region, including Chelston and Portbury, and we hope as many staff as possible will transfer to Avonmouth.”

Norbert Dentressangle will run the transport operation at Avonmouth. The new depot will also take on the operations currently run by supply chain company, Wincanton, at Portbury, and previously at Bridgwater in Somerset, which closed last year, said the Co-op.

A spokesman for the Co-op said: "We have reduced our use of third-party logistics providers in our operations over the past 12 months, and we now have less outsourced work than at any time since we acquired Somerfield, whose entire network was outsourced to a third party.

“Once Avonmouth opens next year, the management and warehouse operations of all our distribution centres will be handled entirely in-house, and only four of our 12 depots will have an outsourced transport solution."

The decision to outsource the transport operation at Avonmouth was a commercial one, he added. All drivers who transfer to this depot will have their terms and conditions protected by TUPE.

"As we have two major distribution centres to ramp up over the next 12 months, we need to minimise risks, to ensure continued and uninterrupted high levels of service to our stores," he said.

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