NEARLY 200 staff walked out at a huge distribution warehouse in a dispute over working hours.
Argos, in Miles Gray Road, Basildon, saw members of the union Unite voted to take strike action.
Workers are planning to stay at the picket line for 18 hours – from 6am until midnight today.
More than 1,000 Argos workers in total, including those from distribution centres in Somerset, Leicestershire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, will take strike action.
It follows a dispute over terms and conditions, which will see staff working more weekend and night shifts.
Unite argues this will “adversely impact” family life, with many employees having to juggle childcare arrangements.
Argos has offered distribution staff a one-off payment of £2,400, but this has been rejected by the union.
Matt Draper, Unite officer for road transport and logistics, said: “The crux of the dispute is Argos’s determination to push through a new 24/7 shift pattern, without offering our members a decent compensation package to offset the severe disruption to their personal and family lives at weekends.
“In many cases it is going to cause havoc with childcare arrangements and mean spouses and partners will see much less of each other.
“The company’s plans will seriously undermine the worklife balance. Some of our members already work weekends, but that was agreed with Unite.
“The new proposals impact much more on family life.
“The management has offered a one-off payment of £2,400, which, quite frankly, is woefully inadequate, given the massive changes in shift patterns that are being proposed for the years ahead.
“We predict Friday’s strike will cause substantial disruption to the deliveries to customers.”
Argos also wants to introduce a new measuring system for quality of work, which Unite believes will be used as a tool to sack staff.
CHANGES ARE PART OF RETAILERS 5-YEAR PLAN
CHANGES to terms and conditions are part of a five-year plan to transform Argos.
The firm wants to focus on becoming a leading digital retailer, and admits distribution staff are “key to the success of this plan”.
As many as 350 new jobs are set to be created and changes are being made to existing contracts, which Argos claims 99.8 per cent of workers have already agreed to.
Bosses have put contingency plans in place to ensure the business runs as smoothly as possible today, as 1,000 distribution staff across the country take strike action.
A company spokesman said: “We believe the proposed changes represent the best outcome for the security of our colleagues and Argos alike. As such, we are now asking colleagues to accept the changes to their contract in order to help us realise our transformation plan.
“We have contingency plans to ensure a normal service for customers.”