Asda and GMB line up peace talks

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Asda, Andy Bond, will meet the leader of the GMB union tomorrow in an attempt to head off a strike that could cripple the supermarket chain's supply system.

Mr Bond sought the meeting with Paul Kenny, the acting general secretary of the union, before a ballot on industrial action over union recognition at the chain's group distribution centres.

The talks come after David Smith, the company's "people director", saw Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, to urge him to intervene.

The flurry of activity by Asda, a subsidiary of the anti-union US company Wal-Mart, is a measure of the company's concern about the possible walkout at 21 warehouses.

Asda's 11,000 distribution workers are due to start voting on 24 April as a part of a campaign to win a national bargaining agreement. At present, the GMB has negotiating rights at some distribution centres, but not all. Also, the union leadership is angry over a management decision to withhold a £250 bonus because the group undershot its £850m profits target by £80m. Asda is also facing industrial unrest among 130,000 workers at its stores who were also denied the bonus. The GMB has ordered a "consultative ballot" among its members at the shops to assess their readiness to walk out.

An Asda spokesman said: "We've had our differences with the GMB, but we are really keen to work with them to avoid industrial action.''

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