FUEL tanker drivers could cause chaos by disrupting petrol supplies nationwide in the coming weeks, after they voted in favour of strike action.
Unite, which represents drivers supplying 90 per cent of the UK’s forecourts, said yesterday that 61 per cent of truckers have voted to strike, potentially affecting almost 8,000 petrol stations across the country.
Shortages over the Easter break next week are a possibility, with Unite general secretary Len McCluskey yesterday refusing to rule out strikes over the bank holidays. Seven days’ notice must be given before any action begins.
The drivers are protesting against working conditions, which they claim are putting staff in danger amid “growing instability in the fuel industry”, Unite said.
Workers at Wincanton, Hoyer, BP, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners backed strike action, with a 77.7 per cent turnout. Members at DHL voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, while staff at Suckling refused to back any action.
Energy secretary Ed Davey slammed the workers, saying in a statement it is “unacceptable and selfish to behave in this manner and jeopardise our international reputation”.
The government has confirmed that the ministry of defence will train soldiers to fill in as tanker drivers to keep fuel supplies going in the event of a strike, adding that it has “learned the lessons” of the fuel tax protests in 2000, when petrol supplies in parts of the country ran dry.
But some on the forecourts are still worried a strike could devastate retailers. Brian Madderson, chairman of the industry group RMI Petrol, told City A.M. the idea of using the army was “pie-in-the-sky thinking”, with each refinery requiring different expertise from the drivers.
“If we had had some guidance from the department of energy, [retailers] would have been able to raise stocks above the current historic low levels. Petrol is hugely expensive, and retailers have cash flow limits… but there has been no leadership or consultation.”
The department of energy and climate change insisted last night that the government has been holding regular meetings with stakeholders, and that the subject of supply has been discussed recently.
The Institute of Directors warned of nationwide “chaos” if the drivers abandon their posts. “If the fuel runs out, firms will not be able to transport goods, staff will not be able to get to work,” said director general Simon Walker.