Unions could “hold Christmas hostage” by threatening to cripple the economy with a nationwide lorry driver strike, the government has warned.
Unite, the UK’s biggest union, said it could create the biggest mass walkout of hauliers since the Winter of Discontent in 1979.
In response, a Department of Transport spokesman claimed a major strike would “damage the work being done to restore supply chains at this vital time of year”.
Unite road transport officer Adrian Jones said he wanted ministers to give a “firm commitment” for more lorry stops with clean toilets and canteens.
He also called for haulage firms to offer the same pay to long-serving drivers and new recruits, some of whom have been handed £50,000 a year.
“Our members need proper facilities, fair pay and respect,” Jones told The Telegraph.
“HGV drivers are the blood in the body of our economy.
“We will not hesitate to cut that supply off if the Government and the employers refuse to do what is necessary.”
Jones admitted that national strikes were illegal, as unions must register disputes with individual employers.
However, he said union bosses were planning to sidestep the rules with walkouts across the sector.
“We are now looking at coordinated strikes before January if we do not get those commitments from the government and employers,” he continued.
“Clearly the fragility of the supply chain is an opportunity for us. Our members are now in the driving seat.”
It comes after Unite boss Sharon Graham, who replaced Len McCluskey in August, vowed to work “on the edge of the law”.
The group has declared a series of victories over pay and conditions as the HGV driver crisis has worsened.
It recently secured an extra £2200 for Sainsbury’s hauliers, employed by DHL, at a Dartford warehouse.
Regional officer Phil Silkstone had previously threatened “empty shelves in Sainsbury’s stores across London and the South East of England”.
Meanwhile, Unite-backed action among HGV drivers at Tesco-owned wholesaler Booker was suspended on October 1 after a new pay deal.
This week, Unite also claimed a major scalp as drivers on a Heinz contract in Wigan reportedly saw their earnings rise by a quarter.
A “coordinated strike” by lorry drivers across the country is likely to be the largest since 1979.
Around 1.7 million million workers took action against Jim Callaghan’s Labour government and won pay increases of up to 20 per cent.
Today, just 15 per cent of the 320,000 HGV workers in the UK are members of a union.
A government spokesman said: “It would be reckless for unions to hold Christmas hostage and damage the work being done to restore supply chains at this vital time of year.
“We have already taken immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, streamline the testing process and improve working conditions.”