Almost 1,000 workers at the firm are being balloted this week on whether they will take industrial action over what they claim are continual breaches in the National Ways Agreement. This governs the terms and conditions of the workforce.
Trades union Unite has described the move as a response to “intransigence by management”.
Unite started balloting its 970 driver, drayman and warehouse members at 27 sites in England, Scotland and Wales today (August 13). The voting is scheduled to close on August 28.
The union claimed distribution of soft and alcoholic drinks brands including Britvic, Heineken, Kronenberg and John Smith’s to pubs and the hospitality sector would be severely disrupted if strikes occur.
“In recent months the management at KNDL has rode roughshod over the national agreement and has unilaterally started imposing changes to working conditions for our members without meaningful consultation,” said Rhys McCarthy, Unite national officer for the food and drinks sector.
“Unite’s repeated attempts to rectify these breaches have been met with intransigence by the management and, as a last resort, our members are being balloted for industrial action.
“We call on the management to enter into constructive talks with Unite immediately to restore good industrial relations by adhering to the national agreement that they signed up to.”
In a statement, KNDL confirmed it had been formally notified by Unite of the strike ballot.
“The company is fully committed to ongoing dialogue with Unite and plans to meet with union representatives on August 29 to discuss the situation further,” the firm stated.
Moved to reassure the trade
Heineken UK has already moved to reassure the trade in the wake of the announcement. A spokesman for the company told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "In the event that any industrial action does take place, we will work closely with KNDL to ensure that the impact on Heineken customers is minimised and that cider and beer supplies are maintained.
"In the meantime, we will not comment further on what is a matter for KNDL and Unite."
Unite had also claimed deliveries of Shepherd Neame products could also be disrupted by any strike action. But the brewer has stressed a recently clinched supply contract with KNDL would not kick in for some time, meaning there would be no implications for its products.
A spokeswoman for Britvic said: "Until the ballot has concluded and a strike is certain, we will not speculate on the impacts a potential strike may or may not have."
In January, Kuehne + Nagel’s depot at Bardon in Leicestershire took a hit from the termination of a supply contract with Waitrose.