WORKERS at supermarket giant Lidl's Scottish distribution depot “operate in a climate of fear” campaigners say.

Hundreds of staff at the site in Livingston load groceries for transportation to Lidl's 94 stores across Scotland.

The German owned low-cost supermarket chain has become a major player in Scottish retail.

But campaigners say the workforce at Lidl's distribution centre face "draconian" conditions.

Random employee theft checks are held without reasonable grounds for suspicion, shopworkers' union USDAW says.

Employees suffering extreme back pain from heavy lifting are afraid to take time off sick, it claims

The union says workers are timed over how quickly they can complete tasks like stacking a pallet for delivery.

USDAW is locked in a long-running dispute with Lidl over the company's refusal to recognise unions and let union officials onto the premises.

The Sunday Herald spoke to workers' representatives staging an early morning protest about the issue.

USDAW says Lidl refuses to allow it onto the premises.

The workforce fear disciplinary action if they are identified, USDAW, says.

A Lidl distribution staff member said they are “always pressured to produce more than is capable in a tight time frame”.

"People get injured due to pick rates being hard to achieve,” another worker added.

Rafal Kowalski, an USDAW official, said workers complained to him that their lockers are randomly searched.

Kowalski said: "They can check your car or your locker and these searches happen a lot."

He added: "People are afraid to take time off sick because they get disciplined for it."

Tracy Gilbert, an USDAW organiser, said the union would escalate its protests at Lidl's distribution site.

However, Gilbert said the workforce feared disciplinary action if they spoke publicly about working conditions. "There' s a fear of reprisals," she said.

Gilbert added: "All we want to do is sit down around the table and talk to the company. We're not going away."

Rab Donnelly, an USDAW fulltime official, joined Gilbert and Kowalski at the protest.

He said: "There are concerns about health and safety issues. People are having problems with their backs due to the lifting of extreme weights. But they are afraid to go off sick even though they shouldn't be at work."

Donnelly added: "Lidl seems to have a hostile approach to unions. Why not let us into the canteen and then the staff can decide for themselves whether they want to be in the union or not."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “The Scottish Government believes that every worker should have the right to an effective voice in the workplace, and to union representation."

A Lidl spokeswoman said: "As a responsible retailer, we are committed to ensuring that our employees receive a high level of internal support and are provided with entitlements that go above and beyond statutory standards. This includes longer basic holiday packages, which increase with length of service. In 2015, we also became the first British supermarket to adopt the Living Wage, as recommended by the Living Wage Foundation, directly benefitting over 50 per cent of our workforce."