HGV drivers at Booker are being balloted for strike action over a pay dispute.
The Unite union has issued a warning that the dispute centred on the wholesaler’s Thamesmead depot could impact supplies to more than 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east of England.
Unite claims that Booker has refused to offer the 30 drivers at Thamesmead the same £5 an hour increase it gave to drivers at its depot in Hemel Hempstead.
It is now set to ballot its members in Thamesmead for strike action and industrial action short of a strike during the last two weeks in August.
“The drivers are paid a low rate of pay,” said Unite regional officer Paul Travers. “The company seems to think this is acceptable and has consistently refused to meet our demand for a temporary uplift until pay negotiations start in September.
“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.
“Our members deliver everything from fresh food to ‘dry’ groceries and are the lifeblood of many smaller convenience stores. The impact of any sort of industrial action will have a serious impact on the stores’ ability to satisfy customer demand.
“We are calling for serious talks with the management to resolve this issue – our door is open for talks 24/7.”
As the driver crisis intensifies, Unite told The Grocer there are other HGV driver disputes already in the process or ‘in the offing’.
In a bid to try and ease what is estimated by the Road Haulage Association to be a shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers, the government has increased driver hours from nine to 10 per day and up to 11 hours twice a week until 8 August, a move slammed by Unite.
In addition, it has increased the amount of HGV driving tests to 1,500 per week, up from 1,150 pre-pandemic.
“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. 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,” said a Booker spokeswoman.