A dispute between the Unite union, which represents heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, and Booker has been rumbling on for days and the two parties are still at loggerheads.
In the latest exchange of fire, Unite accused Booker of trying to hoodwink its lorry drivers on pay by bypassing the union and putting a proposal directly to staff.
Unite says the terms of the offer are “far below the settlement that Unite negotiated for its drivers based at Booker’s depot in Hemel Hempstead in July”.
“Booker’s ham-fisted decision to attempt to cut Unite out of negotiations has made a bad situation worse,” claimed Unite regional officer, Paul Travers.
“Our drivers are not going to be hoodwinked into accepting a deal which is lower than what they have already been offered.
“The offer of a bonus in both December and March has more strings than an orchestra and our members already believe that most will never receive this payment,” Travers said.
If the union calls its members out on strike it could lead to food shortages in Londis and Budgen outlets – retailers both served by Booker.
A spokesperson for Booker said the national shortage of HGV drivers has created some distribution challenges that the company is doing its best to overcome.
“We continue to work with our suppliers, our colleagues at our distribution centres and Unite to manage the issue,” the spokesperson said.
A number of retail chiefs have called on the government to change the rules in an attempt to lure back lorry drivers who have stopped working in the UK since it left the European Union but the Bloomberg news agency reports that the government has no plans to change tack.
One person in government who spoke to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity said there was frustration at the attitude of road haulage associations, who needed to stop blaming Brexit and simply stump up more money to encourage more people to change careers and become lorry drivers, although in many cases this would require them to gain an HGV licence.
The retail trade has responded that an influx of new lorry drivers would take time to train and that with this being the time of year when the major retailers start shifting stuff about in preparation for the Christmas rush, a more immediate solution to the shortage of lorry drivers needs to be found.