Trade union fear for Coop distribution merger

A leading trade union fears the Co-operative’s merger of two West Country distribution centres into a new £20m regional distribution centre at Avonmouth, near Bristol will threaten delivery service levels to nearly 500 food stores in the Bristol, north Somerset and South Wales areas.

Logistics business Norbert Dentressangle will run the transport operation at the new 435,750 sq ft centre, which has infuriated union Unite that claims it is a slippery slope to privatisation of the Co-operative’s services and in breach of a previous agreement that it would not go down the ‘contracting out’ route.

The Avonmouth centre will employ up to 900 and is due to open in September 2012, with its present distribution centre at Wellington, Somerset closing two months later and another at Portbury near Bristol closing next Spring.

The Co-operative has said it hopes as many staff as possible will transfer to Avonmouth and the decision to outsource the transport operation at new centre is a commercial one.

The closures were originally announced in September 2010, following a review of the Co-operative’s distribution network after its acquisition of Somerfield in 2009.

A spokesperson for The Co-operative Group said: “We have reduced our use of third-party logistics providers in our operations over the last 12 months, and we now have less outsourced work than at any time since we acquired Somerfield, whose entire network was outsourced to a third party.

“Once Avonmouth opens next year, the management and warehouse operations of all our distribution centres will be handled entirely in-house, and only four of our 12 depots will have an outsourced transport solution.

“The decision to outsource the transport operation at Avonmouth is a commercial one, but all drivers who transfer to this depot will have their terms and conditions protected by TUPE. As we have two major distribution centres to ramp up over the next 12 months, we need to minimise risks, to ensure continued and uninterrupted high levels of service to our stores.”

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