ARMY drivers are on standby to deliver fuel to petrol stations if tanker drivers vote today to strike over Easter.
The Unite union will this afternoon announce the decision of 2,000 drivers – responsible for 90 per cent of forecourt deliveries – on whether to take industrial action, starting 3 April.
But Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government had “learnt the lessons” of the past, including the chaos of fuel blockades that hit Tony Blair’s government 12 years ago.
“The general public should not and must not suffer from this dispute, and strike action is manifestly not the answer,” said Maude.
“Although we are pushing for an agreement, we have learnt the lessons of the past and stand ready to act to minimise disruption to motorists, to industry and, in particular, to our emergency services, in the event of a strike.”
The government plans to use police to stop any threatened blockade by striking drivers, and the training of around 300 Army lorry drivers is likely to begin this week.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey said “unrelenting attacks” on drivers’ terms and conditions were the reason for the action – which he believed was likely – and said the government should be putting pressure on oil companies, especially over the issues of safety and training.
“For over a year we’ve been desperately trying to bring about some stability in the sector and urging government ministers to persuade contractors and oil companies to engage in meaningful discussions with us,” said McCluskey.
“Unfortunately it’s proving difficult to get them to respond. That leads to frustration as workers feel that no one is listening to them.
“We’ll need to analyse the turnout and feeling of members before deciding whether to take any industrial action, but we always hope that negotiations can resolve the situation.”
The Petrol Retailers’ Association, which represents more than 5,500 petrol stations, said it knew nothing of any government contingency plans and was advising members to keep stock levels high.