Top managers at Booker Retail Partners have ‘disappeared’ so talks aimed at averting possible strike action that could hit deliveries to more than 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east can’t currently take place, Unite the union said today (Wednesday 18 August).

Unite said, despite the company indicating it wanted to start pay talks early to address a pay differential dispute involving about 40 drivers at its Thamesmead site, the bosses are now ‘missing in action’.

The crux of the dispute is that Booker Retail Partners, part of the Tesco ‘empire’, put in place a temporary £5 an hour pay uplift for drivers at its Hemel Hempstead depot because of the HGV driver shortage, but then refused to implement a similar uplift for the 40 drivers at the Thamesmead site.

The Thamesmead drivers, who deliver to independent retailers under the Budgens and Londis brands, are now being balloted for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. The ballot closes on Friday 3 September. Unite is seeking a similar uplift to that the Hemel Hempstead drivers are receiving.

Unite has accused the company of ‘burying its head in the sand’ as the HGV driver shortage across the country escalates due to an ageing workforce who are retiring; the effect of the ‘pingdemic’; the backlog in tests for new entrants due to Covid restrictions; and European Union drivers who returned home during the pandemic, but are now deterred from returning to the UK due to Brexit bureaucracy.

Unite regional officer Paul Travers said: “Despite the company indicating that it wanted to get pay talks started early to address the issue, the top managers have gone ‘missing in action’. We understand the general manager is on holiday and another senior manager has just disappeared from the scene.

“At a time when country faces the worst HGV driver shortage in modern times with an estimated 100,000 vacancies in the industry, it is the height of irresponsibility that there is no executive for Unite to negotiate with – it is worthy of a Fawlty Towers episode. 

“Our Thamesmead members are outraged at the disrespect the management and the company as a whole have shown them – they are very angry as they ballot for industrial action. We are gaining new members from other employees disgusted at the company’s contemptuous attitude.

 “The depot at Thamesmead services over 1,500 convenience stores across London, the south and the south east, including Budgens, Londis, Premier, One Stop and many petrol stations.

“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.

“Despite the management’s lackadaisical attitude to employment relations, we are ready for serious talks with the management to resolve this issue – our door remains open for talks 24/7.”

ENDS 

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.