Unions call off Asda strike after last-minute peace deal

Leaders of thousands of workers at the supermarket group's 20 warehouses abandoned the industrial action after management agreed a framework for future negotiations.

As part of the deal, Asda stopped its legal action over alleged irregularities in the GMB's strike ballot.

Had the strike gone ahead, it would have hit Asda during what is tipped to be the busiest weekend in the history of the chain. With England meeting Portugal in the quarter finals of the World Cup tomorrow, Asda expects to serve 24 customers every second during the build-up to the game. This will include selling 10 million bottles of beer, more than during the run-up to Christmas.

While the dispute was prompted by disagreements over pay, and health and safety, the main bone of contention was over union recognition.

The deal has all the elements of a classic British compromise, but will have the imprimatur of Wal-Mart, Asda's anti-union American parent. While the company has conceded no immediate extension to collective bargaining, it has agreed procedures by which it may be extended.

The deal involves the creation of a national joint council to oversee industrial relations at Asda's 20 warehouses. The committee will have only a consultative role and will not discuss pay and working hours. However, the company has agreed the GMB will have full access to all depots, not just the nine at which it already enjoys full recognition, and that it will "remain neutral" over such matters. The union will be able to present the union case during company induction procedures.

The company has agreed to work out a "model" collective bargaining deal at its Chepstow and Erith depots where there are watered-down "partnership" agreements. If there is a vote in favour of the new arrangement at those two depots, it may be extended elsewhere with the agreement of staff.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said the agreement heralded a fresh approach to representation and bargaining between the group and the GMB.

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