Around 2,000 drivers and warehouse staff across three Tesco DCs could be taking strike action in the run-up to Christmas, after union Unite began balloting them following what it described as a “pitiful” pay offer by the retailer.

Some 700 staff at Tesco’s Belfast and Doncaster DCs will be balloted from Tuesday (1 December) on industrial action, said a spokesman for Unite. The ballot will end on 11 December.

The union is also poised to announce a separate ballot at the Didcot DC, where around 1,300 further Unite members are employed, he said. The union’s unhappiness stems from a pay offer that would give workers no increase in 2015 and a 1.5% increase in 2016, an offer rejected by 91% of affected Unite members in a ballot.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said the union believed the current offer was “far below” what the retailer could afford, adding: “Unite members don’t want to disrupt anyone’s Christmas shopping but without a proper pay increase thousands of workers will not be able to enjoy their own Christmas in the way they deserve.

“We urge Tesco to revise its pitiful pay offer and avoid potential industrial action in the run-up to Christmas.”

A spokesman for the retailer said it was continuing to negotiate as planned with Unite members at four of its DCs and described Unite’s ballot notice in the middle of its negotiations as “clearly counterproductive”.

He added that with 24 DCs around the country, Tesco’s supply chain was unlikely to be noticeably affected if any strike action went ahead. “In terms of our overall operation, customers are not going to see any signs of this at all,” he said.

Tesco has already agreed a pay offer with rival union Usdaw involving no increase this year followed by a 3.2% increase next year for around 8,000 staff across the UK, confirmed the spokesman.