Up to 1,500 convenience stores across London and the south east could face delivery shortages if strikes against Tesco over pay disparities between HGV driver bonuses go ahead.

Unite the Union said bosses from the supermarket's wholesale division, Booker, were "missing in action" after failing to engage in talks about the discrepancies.

Members in Thamesmead said they were "outraged" at the disrespect shown by the management and company as a whole, calling their attitude "contemptuous."

Drivers will now be balloted on whether to take strike action unless bosses match bonuses paid to drivers in other parts of the country.

Tesco implemented a £5-an-hour pay rise for drivers at its Booker depot in Hemel Hempstead but refused to pay a similar increase to HGV drivers at its Thamesmead site, Unite said.

News Shopper: Tesco’s Booker drivers are being balloted over strike action (Nick Ansell/PA)Tesco’s Booker drivers are being balloted over strike action (Nick Ansell/PA)

Drivers at the warehouse deliver products under the Budgens and Londis brands to around 1,500 convenience stores in the south east.

Unite accused the company of "burying its head in the sand" as the HGV driver shortage across the country escalates due to an ageing workforce who are retiring.

The so-called "pingdemic", a backlog of HGV driving tests and driver shortages as EU drivers returned home are all impacting the delivery sector.

It led to Tesco, M&S and Aldi to all offer pay rises or bonuses to drivers in the hope of filling gaps in supply and on shelves.

Unite regional officer Paul Travers said: "Despite the company indicating that it wanted to get pay talks started early to address the issue, the top managers have gone 'missing in action'.

"We understand the general manager is on holiday and another senior manager has just disappeared from the scene.

"At a time when country faces the worst HGV driver shortage in modern times with an estimated 100,000 vacancies in the industry, it is the height of irresponsibility that there is no executive for Unite to negotiate with, it is worthy of a Fawlty Towers episode.

"Our Thamesmead members are outraged at the disrespect the management and the company as a whole have shown them, they are very angry as they ballot for industrial action.

"We are gaining new members from other employees disgusted at the company's contemptuous attitude."