Co-op under fire as private firm runs warehouse
UNIONS have accused the Co-operative of "soiling" its founding principles after it emerged that the organisation is handing over control of its massive new warehouse in Avonmouth to a private contractor.
The distribution centre, which is due to open later this year, will employ 900 staff and will supply the Co-op's network of supermarkets across the South West.
But yesterday it emerged that the Manchester-based organisation has taken on a private firm to manage and operate the site on its behalf.
The move has been criticised by the Unite union, which has pointed to the Co-operative's roots in the trade union movement. The union is also urging Labour MPs to write to the organisation to oppose the move.
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There has already been criticism of the member-owned Co-op over building the warehouse, which will lead to the closure of a smaller depot at Portbury and two more in Somerset.
Work at the warehouse will be contracted out to transport and logistics company Norbert Dentressangle.
Unite's national officer for retail distribution, Matt Draper, said: "This is the thin end of the wedge and the slippery slope to privatisation of the Co-op's services. Clearly, this decision is soiling the Co-op's 19th century founding principles of mutuality for the common good."
Unite said it will raise the issue with Co-operative sponsored MPs in the Labour Party, who currently number about 30, and at the Co-operative's board meeting at the end of the month.
Mr Draper claims the Co-op has broken a previous agreement that it would not start "contracting out".
Work at a Co-op distribution centre in Hampshire was contracted out two years ago but at the time it was said to be a temporary measure.
Mr Draper said: "The fact that the Co-op has got the privatisation 'bug' is to be deplored. We believe that this will lead to job losses and a diminution in the terms and conditions of those still employed, with no guarantee that the level of service to the local Co-op shops will be maintained."
He said unions would seek assurances that members' employment conditions would not be adversely affected.
The new regional distribution centre is due to open in September and will serve around 492 Co-operative food stores in Bristol, North Somerset and South Wales.
Co-operative Food head of logistics Mark Leonard said: "We are due to take delivery of our new state-of-the-art distribution facility at Avonmouth in September, and work to get the site up and running will start right away, with a phased transfer of operations from the former depots. As previously announced, our new regional distribution centre will replace a number of existing smaller depots in the region and we hope as many staff as possible will transfer to Avonmouth."