Dearne MP John Healey’s column - Tesco drivers in legal victory

John Healey, MP
John Healey, MP

Ex-Tesco drivers from across the Dearne have just won an unfair dismissal battle they’d been fighting for more than two years.

Throughout this time I’ve been working with other local Labour MPs to back them and their union Unite.

The dispute began in August 2012 when drivers based at Tesco’s Doncaster distribution centre were transferred to haulage firm Eddie Stobart Ltd (ESL), who had won the contract for the supermarket giant’s distribution operation.

Before the transfer, drivers failed to get assurances that they would be kept on. And in less than a month their worst fears – that they would be out of a job by Christmas – were realised when ESL issued 90-day redundancy notices.

By January 2013, 184 drivers had lost their jobs. Many had decades of loyal service to Tesco. Most have not found work since. I think this was underhand. And it undermined the legal protection the drivers should have had on transfer of the depot operations.

The union officials came to me for help to challenge the bosses of both companies, which I with other local MPs began to do. They were convinced the decision to make the men redundant was taken before the transfer from Tesco to ESL.

They suspected Tesco knew that ESL would not guarantee their jobs.

The drivers were strongly backed by their union Unite and Thompsons solicitors said they had been unfairly dismissed. In legal speak, Unite said Tesco and ESL “colluded to avoid their legal responsibilities” under TUPE (Transfer of Undertaking [Protection of Employment] arrangements).

It seemed clear to us all that ESL wanted to recruit new drivers on worse terms and conditions to run the multi-million pound depot more cheaply. This case shows how trade unions can back workers to fight back against injustices at work, and win. It shows why we need good unions in this country.

It also sends a strong message to companies considering side-stepping the law, not to mention their moral and social responsibilities.

These hard-working and committed drivers lost their livelihoods, because profit was put above all else.

I’ve now made sure that Labour leaders are looking at how the law needs to be tightened to give proper protection when jobs are transferred like this.

An employment tribunal had been due to reconvene last month but now a significant offer has been accepted by the drivers, as recommended by their union.

Unite describe it as a “resounding success for their members.”

I see it also as a great credit to the men, especially convenor Trevor Cheetham, who I first met in Swinton.