As industry bodies fail in their attempt to add HGV drivers to the shortage occupation list, a fresh threat has emerged in the shape of strike ballots at companies supplying construction sites and convenience stores.
Deliveries to 1,500 retail stores in London and the south east are at risk after 40 drivers, employed by Booker Retail Partners at its Thamesmead site, voted unanimously for strike action.
Unite the union said it is poised to notify Booker, part of Tesco, of strike action, but says it will allow time for “crunch talks” with bosses later this month. Thamesmead’s drivers deliver goods to independent retailers operating under the Budgens and Londis brands.
The pay dispute focuses on Booker’s decision to apply a temporary £5 per hour pay increase for drivers at its Hemel Hempstead depot because of the HGV driver shortage, without any similar uplift for the drivers at Thamesmead.
Unite regional officer Paul Travers said: “This is really ‘smell the coffee’ time for the bosses at Booker Retail Partners. Our members at Thamesmead could not have sent out a clearer message: 100% voting in favour of strike action.
“We are poised to issue notice for strike action very soon which will cause serious disruption to more than 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east; however we are holding crucial talks on 21-23 September. If those talks don’t result in a fair settlement, there will be strikes as our members are up for a long, drawn out fight for pay justice.”
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.”
HGV driver shortages
In construction, key projects could face cement shortages this autumn if lorry drivers employed by Hanson, vote for strike action in a dispute over pay.
More than 200 lorry drivers, who supply major construction projects such as including Hinkley Point and HS2 and building supply brands such as Jewson and Marshalls, have rejected a pay offer of 2.5%.
Unite, which is also representing these drivers, said the offer amounts to a real terms pay cut as RPI inflation currently stands 3.9%.
The strike ballot opens later this week. Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “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. Hanson’s is simply not giving its drivers the respect they deserve.”
Hanson UK CEO Simon Willis said: “Our negotiations are ongoing, so we are unable to give any further details concerning the discussions at this time. We are committed to arriving at an agreeable settlement so that we will be able to continue to supply our customers, as we have done throughout the pandemic and during the current levels of high demand for our products.”