Tesco has played down the prospect of strike action among its 3,500 HGV drivers and warehouse workers after a union claimed the supermarket didn’t believe it needed to increase wages.

Unite said members had rejected a below inflation 2.5% pay increase and that it was in effect a substantial real terms pay cut.

It said that if drivers and other staff at four distribution centres across the UK vote to down tools then Tesco shelves will quickly empty, with Christmas potentially being affected for millions of people.

But the supermarket giant told it was in discussion with Unite representatives to agree a pay award.

The affected sites are Belfast, Didcot, Doncaster and Thurrock.

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Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “The arrogance and disdain for its workforce currently being displayed by Tesco’s management is shocking; they have either forgotten, don’t know or don’t care that the company’s success is due to the hard work and diligence of its workers.

“If full industrial action resulting in empty shelves does follow, then consumers should understand that this dispute is entirely of Tesco’s own making.”

A Tesco spokeswoman said: “We are in ongoing talks with Unite representatives regarding pay and are working closely with them to find a resolution.

“We look forward to meeting with them again soon to work towards an agreement on a pay award for our colleagues in those four distribution centres.”

In July, Tesco said it was offering HGV drivers a £1,000 joining bonus for all candidates starting at the company before 30 September.