Thousands of Asda staff have threatened a strike which could affect supplies at almost every UK store.
Lorry drivers, warehouse staff and clerical workers have voted against a pay offer, which would see rises of between 5% and 7.5%.
Almost 70% of the GMB union’s 8,000 members within Asda’s distribution network voted to reject the rise.
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That pay rise compares to inflation of 7.8% – on the retail prices index measure – while the legal minimum wage is set to increase by 6.6% in April, reports the Mirror.
The government’s preferred measure of inflation – the consumer prices index – is expected to rise from 5.5% in January to almost 8% in April.
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Almost 80% of those balloted said they were ready to take action over the pay deal, raising the prospect of strikes that would affect all 23 distribution depots that supply Asda stores.
Nadine Houghton, a national officer for the GMB, said: “The UK is facing the worst cost of living crisis for a generation. Inflation is rampant and energy prices are out of control.
“Yet Asda workers are being taken for mugs with a below-inflation pay offer that basically means a real-terms pay cut.
“They’re not going to take it lying down – it’s now up to Asda bosses to come back with a reasonable offer and avert the threat of industrial action.”
Some Asda workers have claimed they “can’t afford to shop there” due to cost of living rises and the below-inflation wage rise.
Staff claim they are now using food banks to feed themselves.
Yet Asda, the UK’s third-biggest retailer, was bought in 2020 by billionaire brothers Zuber and Moshin Issa for £6.8billion.
And its latest accounts say its profits in 2020 were £368million.
A cost-of-living survey of 800 Asda staff found by the GMB union employees are concerned about their finances.
More than 500 of those surveyed said the steep rise in prices was affecting their mental health.
About 5% admitted to taking time off because they couldn’t afford to travel to work and another 7% said they had used food banks. Almost all (760) said they didn’t feel valued as a key worker by the firm.
Asda’s 123,000 staff were told earlier this month wages would go up to £9.66 an hour from April.
But that is much lower than most other supermarkets.
Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s all pay their staff over £10 an hour.
Only Tesco pay less – £9.55 an hour – although this year’s pay increase is yet to be announced.
Jon Parry, the vice-president of Asda Logistics Services, said: “We value the key role our colleagues play to keep our stores well stocked, and we have negotiated in good faith with the GMB to make a fair, competitive and sustainable pay offer that recognizes rising inflation. We are disappointed this has been rejected.”
The next step ahead of potential strike action would be a meeting between the union, the supermarket and the conciliation service Acas.
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