Morrisons workers announce series of strikes

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The troubled supermarket chain Wm Morrison was threatened yesterday with highly disruptive industrial action by distribution workers who warned of a three-day walkout followed by an overtime ban and then a six-day strike.

Brian Revell, a national organiser at the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G), called on management to meet employees' representatives as soon as possible to try to avert the most serious industrial action ever to hit the supermarket supply chain.

The news followed the announcement of a 60 per cent vote in favour of stoppages by members of the GMB general union at the company. The GMB workers at two key depots - Aylesford in Kent and Warrington, Cheshire - also voted by 82 per cent for action short of a strike. Employees belonging to the T&G at warehouses in Bristol, Wakefield and Gadbrook Park in Cheshire had already opted by 3-1 to walk out.

The threatened stoppages, called over fears of job losses, would result in "empty shelves", according to employees' leaders.

Both sides said they were prepared to enter talks but the unions have rejected a management offer to meet them separately. Morrisons also said yesterday that it had contingency plans in place but it was too early to judge what impact a stoppage could have.

The campaign of disruption is scheduled to begin with a three-day strike starting on 25 September to coincide with the Labour Party annual conference in Brighton. Delegates at the conference are expected to call for stricter laws on employee consultation - one of the issues at the heart of the Morrisons dispute. Unions hope ministers attending the party's assembly will put pressure on the supermarket chain to make concessions to the workforce.

An overtime ban after the three-day walkout will be followed by a six-day strike starting on 29 September.

Referring to the strike vote, Paul Kenny, the acting general secretary of the GMB, said: "This is a clear message from the Morrison workforce to the management of the company to listen to them and be honest about the future."

Sir Ken Morrison, the chairman of the company, had said his door was always open. Mr Kenny added: "Now he [Sir Ken] must be prepared to meet the unions for straight talking and some serious negotiation if the strike action is to be averted."

Staff at the company are concerned that it is set to close some of its 20 distribution depots to cut costs. Morrisons owns eight of the warehouses directly; the remaining 12, run by Excel or Christian Salvesen, are unaffected by the dispute.

Officials at the GMB recently released Morrisons documents showing that the supermarket group intended to shut the depots at Bristol, Aylesford and Warrington, putting 2,500 jobs at risk. Unions have argued that management had failed to consult over its plans.