Forty drivers at wholesaler Booker Retail Partners have voted unanimously for strike action in a move which could see deliveries to 1,500 convenience stores in London and the south east face severe disruption.

In what is the latest twist in a long running dispute, all 40 drivers at Booker’s Thamesmead depot voted for strike action last week in protest at the failure of the Tesco subsidiary to include them in a temporary £5 an hour pay uplift which the company has granted to drivers at its Hemel Hempstead depot.

Union Unite warned this week that the strike will deepen the supply shortage crisis hitting many parts of the UK economy because of the lack of HGV drivers. The Thamesmead drivers deliver to independent retailers under the Londis and Budgens brands.

The union added that following the ballot, it is “poised” to issue notice to Booker of strike action, but wants to allow time for crunch talks with the company, set to take place between 21 and 23 September.

Paul Travers, Unite regional officer, 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.

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“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.

“This dispute has been pockmarked by very poor employment relations by the management with senior executives ‘missing in action’ at critical times and then trying to bypass negotiating procedures by attempting to offer our members a deal that would have ultimately left them worse off.

“Any industrial action will deepen the supply shortages that many parts of the retail sector are currently experiencing due to the wider issue of HGV driver shortages which are estimated at 70,000 - 100,000.

"Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards."

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.”