Independent petrol retailers turn on the government for encouraging panic buying of fuel, describing its approach as "ill-conceived" and criticising ministers for failing to engage with the industry.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Brian Madderson, chairman of Retail Motor Industry Petrol (RMIP), says: "Independent petrol retailers across the UK have had their confidence abruptly shaken by the government's perceived inability to manage the issue of a potential industrial dispute by Unite-affiliated tankers drivers."
Mr Madderson, whose organisation represents 5,500 independent filling stations, adds that the "government created a crisis", with "ill-conceived recommendations and complete lack of engagement with industry to prepare for possible strike action".
Last week, the government advised motorists to fill up their tanks in preparation for a possible strike by tanker drivers. Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude went further, suggesting people use jerry cans to store fuel. The result was panic buying, resulting in shortages of fuel and long queues ouside petrol stations.
RMIP has also released a copy of an email a member sent his Conservative MP, which calls the government's approach to the issue "probably the most incompetent handling of a situation that I can remember", adding that "this dispute has the potential of damaging the government beyond repair".
Ministers' advice has now changed markedly, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying on Monday: "There is no need for people to rush out and fill their tanks with fuel."
The effects of the government's previous advice are still being felt across the UK, with RMIP reporting that up to 50 per cent of its members were unable to replenish their stocks on Sunday.
This contributed significantly to falls in sales of petrol and diesel for the first time since the panic began, and some petrol stations will not have fuel delivered until the easter weekend or beyond.
Talks to try to avert a strike by tanker drivers began on Monday. There are 8,706 petrol stations in the UK and Unite says its 2,000 drivers supply fuel to 90 per cent of them.
If the talks at Acas fail, and drivers take industrial action, there is the prospect of petrol stocks running out within 48 hours of a strike beginning.
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The union says the dispute is about terms and conditions of employment, not pay. It points out that whereas tanker drivers used to be employed directly by the major oil companies, these organisations now contract out the business of delivering fuel to forecourts, and employees' rights are suffering as a result.
Unite's 2,062 drivers work for BP Oil UK, Turners (Soham), JW Suckling, Hoyer Petrolog UK, Norbert Dentressangle Tankers, Wincanton, and Energy & Environment DHL Supply Chain, Industrial UK.
The union is lobbying for national standards on working conditions and health and safety, alongside a national forum, "respected by all industry players", to uphold these standards.
It argues that the "contract merry-go-round" means drivers' conditions change every three to five years, "bringing with each change a fresh assault on working conditions", whereas 20 years ago, contracts were awarded for 10 years.
Competition to win contracts means companies are cutting corners on health and safety, it says, with drivers forced to meet tighter deadlines.
It wants a national forum to establish a set of minimum standards on training, pay, pensions and health and safety, but says some employers are resistant.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which counts most of the firms mentioned above among its members, says many fuel tanker drivers are not members of Unite, and those who have voted for strike action are in a minority.
It says these drivers are paid much more than other lorry drivers, with average salaries of more than £40,000 a year. The RHA says standards in the industry are far above the legal minimum and staff are well trained.
Firms are resisting Unite's call for a national pay and conditions package on the basis that they are operating in a free market and are not part of a nationalised industry.
Wincanton, which employs 440 drivers on average salaries of £45,000, says it and five of the other companies involved in the dispute have signed up to Unite's forum.
It says that while it is happy for industry-wide standards on health and safety, pensions, training and holidays, it wants the freedom to set its own pay levels and working hours arrangements, reflecting customer requirements and where staff are employed.
2000 fuel dispute
The possibility of fuel supplies being disrupted is a reminder of what happened in 2000, when Tony Blair's government faced its first serious
Back then, it was not trade unionists threatening to strike over their terms and conditions that affected supplies. It was small haulage firms
and farmers blockading fuel terminals in protest about the high cost of diesel.
These hauliers tried to stop tanker drivers from leaving terminals to deliver fuel. Now it is the tanker drivers contemplating industrial
action, but to make matters worse for the government, some hauliers have said they will back the strikers.
Truckers led to Andrew Spence, who played a prominent part in the 2000 dispute, plan a blockade of refineries and are threatening to cause
gridlock on motorways because of the rising cost of fuel.
Mr Spence warned: "We are better organised than we were in 2000. This time we will bring the government down."