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Co-op’s ‘contracting out’ distribution smacks of privatisation, says Unite

London, UK: The Co-operative’s food wing is accused of “soiling its principles” by contracting out its distribution operations in the south west.

Unite, the largest union in the country, condemned yesterday’s announcement that the Co-op was merging its two distribution centres at Chelston and Portbury into a new centre in Avonmouth  – and contracting out the work at the new site to the transport and logistics company, Norbert Dentressangle.

Two hundred jobs will be affected at the two sites, which are due to close in November 2012.

Unite 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.”

Draper said that the Co-op was in breach of a previous agreement that it would not go down the ‘contracting out’ route. This follows the contracting out of work at the Andover distribution centre in Hampshire two years ago, which the Co-op said was a temporary measure in difficult economic times.

“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,: Draper said.

“We are asking the Co-op to re-think its decision to outsource this work to a private company – and will be seeking assurances from the Co-op that the jobs, and terms and conditions of our members will not be adversely affected.”

Unite is to raise the matter with the Co-operative MPs in the Labour party and at the Co-operative’s board meeting at the end of this month.