The air travel chaos because of the volcanic ash cloud has caused retailers a headache over whether to pay staff absent as a result of not being able to fly home.

Sainsbury’s will not pay staff stuck overseas but will give them the option to make up time, take it as holiday or unpaid leave. Marks & Spencer took the opposite position and said: “No employees will be asked to take unpaid leave or additional holiday for any extra time they are absent.” Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy said: “We’ll handle it on a case by case basis.” Meanwhile Asda said the 204 staff not able to return from holiday will be paid for missed shifts.

The issue is sensitive, after some retailers were criticised for not paying staff unable to get to work during the snow earlier this year.

Supply disruption has mainly been limited to a few items, such as exotic fruit. Most fashion retailers said their supply is primarily by road and sea.

Some international online deliveries have been delayed.

Grant Liddell, retail director of logistics firm Uniserve, warned that there could be a knock-on effect from the shutdown. “Next week, in order to move cargo, air freight rates will go sky high. Some carriers are talking about trebling rates,” he said.