The national shortage of HGV drivers is behind a forthcoming ballot for strike action that could impact on deliveries to more than 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east, Unite the union warned today (Friday 30 July).

Booker Retail Partners, the wholesale supplier to independent retailers under the Budgens and Londis brands, 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 30 drivers at the Thamesmead site.

The Thamesmead drivers will now be balloted from mid to the end of August for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. Unite is seeking a similar uplift to that the Hemel Hempstead drivers are receiving.

Unite 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: “We are facing a serious HGV driver shortage across the UK – ‘a perfect storm’ in the worst possible way.

“Due to this well-publicised driver shortage, Booker Retail Partners put in place a temporary uplift in pay of £5 an hour for the drivers at Hemel Hempstead; however, when we approached the company in regards to an uplift for our members at Thamesmead, the bosses refused.

“The drivers are paid a low rate of pay. 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.

“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.

“We are calling for serious talks with the management to resolve this issue – our door is 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.