Wincanton has maintained that its pay offer to drivers on the Asda contract was fair and competitive, after the Unite union threatened it with strike action in the run-up to Christmas.

Unite said the supermarket was facing the prospect of empty shelves at one of the busiest times of the year as HGV drivers were due to begin voting on downing tools.

It said the 80-plus drivers were based at Wincanton’s depot in Rochdale and transport goods to regional distribution centres, covering an area from Falkirk to Bristol.

Unite claimed that the drivers were paid £13.50 an hour and were often required to work up to 15 hours a day.

It said that they had been offered a 7.4% increase on their basic pay, but this was in effect a real terms pay cut: “Both Wincanton and Asda are hugely wealthy companies,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.

“They absolutely should not be asking our members to take a pay cut, so unless they change their approach and table a better offer, they will face strike action in the run up to Christmas.”

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The ballot opens on Tuesday 18 October and closes on Monday 21 November.

Strike action, if agreed, will see stoppages begin in the first week in December.

Unite regional officer Kenny Rowe said: “Strike action will cause huge disruption to Asda and will inevitably result in shortages.

“Wincanton has been given every chance to resolve this dispute and make a pay offer which meets the workers’ expectations but it has declined to do so.”

However, a Wincanton spokesman said: “We value the vital work our colleagues carry out every day and the offer we have put forward is fair and competitive.

“We remain committed to finding a resolution that satisfies all parties.”