Wal-Mart accused of vetoing Asda union recognition deal

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The world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, is being accused of vetoing a union recognition deal signed by its British subsidiary Asda.

Officials at the GMB general union alleged yesterday that the anti-union American company put pressure on Asda's chief executive Andy Bond to renege on an agreement acceding to collective bargaining at the supermarket's distribution network.

Paul Kenny, the acting general secretary of the GMB, is expected to resurrect plans for industrial action unless Mr Bond commits the company to recognise the union at 21 depots in talks due tomorrow. The union's officials believe Mr Bond was ordered to "reinterpret" the accord signed with the union during a visit to Wal-Mart's headquarters at Bentonville, Arkansas, last week.

Mr Kenny said: "We are quite clear that the agreement reached between Asda and the GMB secured collective bargaining at all 21 distribution sites." The deal also provided for a national joint negotiating committee, he said.

"We very much regret that Asda has either failed to understand what they had agreed or that Asda UK has not been able to deliver the deal."

Jeff Goswell, a GMB official in the south-east of England, said: "Members are convinced that the deal that Andy Bond signed with Paul Kenny has been suppressed by Wal-Mart."

Other union sources say Asda's human resources department in Britain has admitted privately that the company is trying to undermine the deal and "keep the GMB in its box". Another version is that the union was "hoodwinked" by Mr Bond into thinking it had achieved union recognition.

In the wake of the agreement on 5 April, the GMB drew up a briefing for its members at Asda declaring that Mr Bond had agreed "full recognition" of the union at all distribution sites. The agreement came after the union set in train a ballot on industrial action at the depots in an attempt to win recognition.

A spokeswoman for Asda said the company is sticking by the deal agreed with the GMB which set up a national negotiating committee for the distribution centres but did not agree to an extension of collective bargaining.

She denied that Mr Bond had been undermined by his own managers or had been overruled by headquarters in America. "Andy is in charge over here. Maybe there is a misunderstanding between Paul Kenny and his members," she said.

Asda was recently forced to pay £850,000 in compensation to staff at a warehouse in Washington, Tyne & Wear, for unlawfully offering them a financial inducement to vote away the union's negotiating rights.