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Strike ballot threatens 'beer drought'

·3-min read
Beer - Peter Nicholls /REUTERS
Beer - Peter Nicholls /REUTERS

Pubs risk running short of beer this summer as lorry drivers and logistics workers threaten strike action over a “paltry” 1.4pc pay offer after a year of critical strains on the industry’s workforce.

About 1,000 workers are being balloted from next Wednesday at XPO Logistics Drinks, which handles roughly 40pc of the nation’s lager deliveries and covers well-known brands such as Heineken.

Joe Clarke at the Unite union said the ballot could threaten “a beer drought”, but that workers deserved higher pay.

He claimed some workers had lost £10,000 of income during the crisis after being furloughed and missing out on overtime. Mr Clarke said: “Our members have suffered great financial hardship during the pandemic. The company has responded by offering a paltry 1.4pc."

The proposed pay rise is below inflation, as consumer prices rose by 2.4pc in the 12 months to June. A crippling shortage of haulage staff means their is huge demand for truckers at present, giving them greater clout in pay negotiations.

Mr Clarke added: “Drivers, their ‘mates’ and warehouse staff are working flat out currently to meet the high demand for beer volumes in our pubs as society reopens.

“A beer drought could result if our members vote for industrial action."

It comes at a critical time for pubs and restaurants as they try to recover after more than a year of closures. Hospitality venues and supermarkets are already struggling with the “pingdemic” as hundreds of thousands of people, including vital supply chain staff, are ordered to stay at home by the NHS Test and Trace app.

Lorry drivers are now being exempted from forced isolation if they return negative Covid tests.

The Road Haulage Association estimates that Britain is short of 100,000 hauliers, partly because Covid has disrupted cross-border travel and delayed HGV driving tests, while Brexit may also have limited the supply of workers from the continent.

Industry insiders cite examples of fierce bidding wars for experienced drivers, with salary offers 50pc or more above usual industry rates.

Some recruiters are offering more than £60,000 for Class 1 drivers, although a wider analysis of the data on job adverts by for The Telegraph indicates most employers are not increasing pay significantly despite the shortages and the strains of the pandemic.

The average salary on offer this year is £27,068, according to Total Jobs. That is 2.3pc higher than the £26,447 last year, which was itself down by around £150 on the average advertised pay the year before.

It is understood that the average pay of drivers in the dispute is £42,000.

Meanwhile Unite accused XPO Logistics Drinks of poor Covid safety.

Mr Clarke said: “The company has ceased all Covid-secure cleaning processes for our drivers which is ridiculous as infection rates soar.

“This move is aimed at cutting times for driver deliveries in an unsafe way. It is an act of corporate irresponsibility.”

Strike action could begin on 23 August if members vote in favour.

An XPO spokesperson said: "We favour dialogue in all our negotiations. We remain open for further conversations to seek agreement in a hospitality sector that is just starting to come out of the lockdown's impact."

The spokesperson did not comment on the union's allegations about safety.

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