Strike ballots threaten to exacerbate shortages crisis

7 September 2021

The shortages afflicting industries across the UK could be exacerbated by strike ballots taking place among HGV drivers.

Drivers for Booker, who deliver goods to over 1,500 stores in London and the Southeast including Londis and Budgens, have voted unanimously for strike action in a row over pay. 

Unite regional officer Paul Travers warned strike action would “deepen the supply shortages that many parts of the retail sector are currently experiencing” and threaten an already struggling logistics industry. 

Travers said: “This dispute has been pockmarked by very poor employment relations by the management with senior executives ‘missing in action’ at critical times and then trying to bypass negotiating procedures by attempting to offer our members a deal that would have ultimately left them worse off.”

A Booker spokesperson said: “We are naturally disappointed with last week's ballot result from our Thamesmead drivers but look forward to sitting down with their Unite representatives on 21 September and working together to find a resolution.”

Meanwhile, over 200 drivers and engineers are threatening strike action at cement producer Handson in another dispute over pay. 

Handson supplies cement to projects including HS2, Sellafield and Thames Tideway, and also supplies building product companies including Jewson and Marshalls.

Unite said if strikes were to occur construction projects “would swiftly run short of cement” as many only have limited storage facilities.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “With the ongoing driver shortage, our members are seeking a pay increase which recognises their hard work and dedication.

“If strikes do occur then it will have major implications for the construction industry. Supplies of cement will quickly run out, which will result in projects being delayed.

Meanwhile, Wagamama is the latest chain to announce disruptions due to labour shortages. 

The restaurant said it is struggling to source chefs for 30 of its 147 UK sites, representing one fifth of the company’s UK restaurants. 

Wagamama chief executive Thomas Heier told PA there is greater competition for workers as shortages spread across industries.

Heier said: “We’ve seen a reduction in our EU workforce in particular. But the other thing we’re seeing is increased competition from logistics and delivery firms who are struggling with an increased number of vacancies.

“It’s a perfect storm of higher than normal demand with supply chain challenges in the mix and a shortage of staff on the logistics side.”

Labour has called on the government to take action by appointing a minister responsible for addressing the supply chain disruptions caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic and setting up a task force to drive recruitment in key areas. 

Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary and former party leader, said: “Ministers have a habit of ignoring warnings and shifting the burden of blame to businesses. But it is their undermining of our country’s skills training system, failure to deliver on their promise to cut barriers facing businesses and belief in an insecure labour market with poor terms and conditions that has created this crisis.

“The long-term problems in the HGV sector will not be solved by making drivers work longer hours but by training workers and improving their terms and conditions. What we are seeing across our economy should be a wake-up call to the government that insecurity and low pay cannot build the high performing economy we need.”

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