Trade union, Unite, has warned that a “cynical” attempt by Booker Retail Partners to “hoodwink” its lorry drivers on pay has dramatically increased the likelihood of widespread industrial action at the company.
According to the trade union, Booker has attempted to bypass negotiations with Unite by proposing a pay deal directly to its staff.
Under the new proposals, drivers would receive a £70 per week raise for all HGV drivers, a £1000 bonus paid December 18, and another bonus paid on March 18.
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The deal also includes a signing bonus of £1500, paid in two instalments of £750 after three months and £750 after six months.
The trade union said, however, it is “far below” the settlement that Unite negotiated for its drivers based at Booker’s depot in Hemel Hempstead in July, who were to receive a £5 an hour increase in pay.
Unite also revealed its Hemel Hempstead workforce is “furious” that their pay is now earmarked to fall dramatically under the company’s proposals.
The company’s actions have also resulted in over 40 Unite members at the company’s depot in Thamesmead, South London, who are currently being balloted for strike action as the result of the failure of the company to offer them a similar deal like the Hemel Hempstead workforce.
The ballot for strike action for the Thamesmead workforce will close on September 3 and if the drivers vote for strike action, strikes affecting deliveries to 1500 Budgen and Londis convenience stores could begin later next month.
“Booker’s ham-fisted decision to attempt to cut Unite out of negotiations has made a bad situation worse,” Unite regional officer Paul Taverns said.
“Our drivers are not going to be hoodwinked into accepting a deal which is lower than what they have already been offered.
“The offer of a bonus in both December and March has more strings than an orchestra and our members already believe that most will never receive this payment.”
He added: “Rather than head off strike action, our members at Thamesmead are now more determined than ever to support strike action, while the prospect of industrial action spreading to other depots has increased.
“If Booker wants to stop their entire operation from grinding to a halt, they need to withdraw this misguided offer and get round the table with Unite to agree a deal which meets our members expectations and acknowledges that the lorry driver shortage means that pay must permanently increase.”
A spokesperson for Booker told Grocery Gazette: “The national shortage of HGV drivers across many industries has created some distribution challenges but we’re doing everything we can to ensure customers can get the products they need.
“We continue to work with our suppliers, our colleagues at our distribution centres and Unite to manage the issue.”