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Lorry driver strikes could mean food shortages at convenience stores

Written by: Emma Lunn
The national shortage of HGV drivers is behind a forthcoming ballot for strike action that could affect deliveries to more than 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east.

Union Unite is balloting drivers for strike action after a row over parity pay for HGV drivers.

Booker Retail Partners, the wholesale supplier to Budgens and Londis, put in place a temporary £5 an hour pay uplift for drivers at its Hemel Hempstead depot because of the HGV driver shortage. However, it refused to implement a similar uplift for the 30 drivers at its 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’ about the escalation of the HGV driver shortages across the UK. There are not enough lorry drivers 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 because of either the pandemic or Brexit.

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.”

Earlier this week, Tesco offered a £1,000 sign-up bonus to new HGV drivers as UK supermarkets competed for qualified drivers.

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