Argos drivers’ move to Eddie Stobart sparks strike ballot over job fears

The simmering row over Argos’ plans to transfer 96 drivers in Leicestershire to controversial haulier Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL), has now escalated to a strike ballot of more than 400 workers at the Lutterworth site.

The 420 workers, members of Unite, the country’s largest union, are seriously concerned that if the drivers are transferred to ESL that the rest of the workforce will follow with possible detrimental effects on pay, employment conditions and job security.

The workers, including drivers, warehouse and admin staff will be balloted from Tuesday 17 May on whether they want to take strike action or industrial action short of a strike in a bid to remain employees of Argos. The ballot closes on Tuesday 31 May.

Unite regards ESL as a poor employer with a hostile attitude to its workers. Only last month, Unite settled a dispute which centred on the transfer of 87 Co-op Coventry-based drivers to ESL. The majority of the Coventry drivers preferred to take the severance package rather than go and work for ESL.

Unite regional coordinating officer, Paresh Patel, said: “Our members consider that the identity of their employer is a vital condition of their contract of employment and they don’t want that term being changed unilaterally, as is being currently proposed by Argos for the 96 drivers.

“If that happens, our members will regard this as the thin end of the wedge and that the rest of the workforce may face the same fate. After a fashion, the ballot is a back-handed compliment to Argos.

“Our members have a strong wish to remain employed by Argos and not by Eddie Stobart, as it has a very poor record of treating workers who have been TUPE’d [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] to its operations.

“We believe there has been a failure by the Argos management to adhere to the spirit of the national forum agreement between the management and unions in this respect.

“The basis for this ballot is that our members feel that their current terms and conditions will be best protected by maintaining the identity of and employment with their current employer.

“This dispute will remain unresolved until we receive an undertaking from Argos that it agrees that it will continue to employ our members.”

Argos outsources the rest of its driver network, about 350 drivers, to Wincanton and the ESL proposal has sparked concerns that the Wincanton drivers could also end up working for ESL.

In 2012, Unite was involved in a long-running dispute when Tesco in Doncaster TUPE’d 184 workers to ESL. The drivers were then issued with a termination of employment notice with no prospect of re-employment. Many of those drivers are still out of work.