Christmas crisp crisis narrowly averted as union ‘delays’ strike

Britain came close to Christmas crisp chaos this week after a lorry drivers’ pay dispute came close to threatening deliveries of Walkers Crisps across the UK.

Lorry drivers based at the Warrington, Cheshire depot at iconic haulage firm Eddie Stobart voted almost unanimously in favour of strike action after the company unveiled plans for a wage freeze, and said it would not negotiate with the drivers’ union, Unite.

Warrington is the distribution hub for Walkers Crisps.

After the 96.7% majority, vote strike action could have legally begun before Christmas, creating a crisp famine with Walkers' products disappearing from shop shelves.

But instead of all-out strike action, Unite has instead announced a three week overtime ban and work to rule which will begin at 00:01 hours on Boxing Day and will end at the stroke of midnight on January 15.

While the overtime ban is unlikely to result in the complete disappearance of Walkers' products from shelves, some shortages are still expected.

This action could also have an impact on other goods that are distributed by the Stobart network, reports the Liverpool Echo.

Unite stressed that if the overtime ban did not result in Eddie Stobart entering into "meaningful negotiations" over pay, strike action would be announced in January.

Unite regional officer Steve Gerrard said: "Lovers of Walkers crisps will be relieved that they can enjoy their favourite snacks this Christmas.

"However, this is due to a gesture of goodwill by Unite's drivers. Unite is giving Eddie Stobart a final opportunity to enter into realistic pay negotiations.

He added: "The overtime ban will have a significant effect on the distribution of the company's products and should serve as a wake-up call to management.

"Workers do not take industrial action lightly but believe that they have no option.

"They are working on an incredibly profitable contract and have continued to work through two lockdowns and it is unacceptable that the only thanks they get for their dedication is a pay freeze, a pay cut in real terms.

"To avoid industrial action, Stobart management simply need to fully engage with Unite, and we are willing to discuss these issues with a positive approach."

A Walkers spokesperson said: "We are confident this issue will not result in a shortage of crisps.

"We are aware a union is planning industrial action with some lorry drivers working for our distribution supplier. There are contingency plans in place so that shelves will remain stocked."

An Eddie Stobart spokesperson said: "At a time when there is a global pandemic, huge economic downturn, and high levels of unemployment, our decision is that the pay award for 2020 will be zero per cent. We remain committed to ensuring job security for all our workforce at this difficult time.”

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