HGV drivers for wholesale firm Booker are threatening strike action over worker pay, putting supplies to 1,500 stores at risk.
Drivers from Booker Retail Partners’ Thamesmead depot are considering industrial action in response to a pay dispute, following the company’s attempt to tackle HGV driver shortages.
Unite the Union issued the warning after it found Booker had put in place a temporary £5 an hour pay rise for HGV drivers at its Hemel Hempstead depot in a bid to attract new workers.
However, the company refused to increase wages for more than 30 workers at its Thamesmead location.
Drivers will now have up to the end of August to vote on whether to strike or take other action against the employer.
While there has been no announcement of a ballot as yet, such a move would threaten fresh food and grocery supplies to stores across the South East of England, including Budgens, Londis, Premier and One Stop retailers.
Unite regional officer Paul Travers said delivery drivers are “the lifeblood” of many smaller convenience stores.
“We are facing a serious HGV driver shortage across the UK – ‘a perfect storm’ in the worst possible way,” Travers said.
“The drivers are paid a low rate of pay. Due to the shortage of HGV drivers, pay rates are increasing rapidly across the industry and the management are burying their heads in the sand over this development.”
Unite has called for a consultation with Booker management, but the employer says it is trying to manage the issue.
“The industry shortage of HGV drivers has created some distribution challenges but we’re doing everything we can to ensure customers can get the products they need,” a Booker spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Grocer.
“We are working closely with our suppliers, our colleagues at our distribution centres and Unite to manage the issue and find the best way forward.”
Booker was unavailable for further comment.
The dispute comes amid ongoing HGV driver shortages across the UK, due to Covid-19 restrictions, Brexit and tax issues.
Several retailers have rolled out measures to entice people into the industry, including Tesco and Asda which both announced a £1,000 welcome bonus for new drivers, as the supermarkets had struggled to secure supplies of perishable foods, milk and meats.