25 Mar 2012

Army ready to step in as fuel strike looms

Hundreds of soldiers are being lined up to stand in for petrol tanker drivers threatening strike action next month, a government minister reveals.

The army and police are on standby to ensure fuel deliveries do not grind to a halt resulting in the same chaos that the September 2000 fuel blockade caused UK residents under Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government had “learnt the lessons” of the past and stood “ready to act” if members of the Unite union walk out.

The results of a strike ballot of 2,000 tanker drivers were expected on Sunday and a strike over their terms and conditions could begin from 3 April.

Mr Maude appealed to the union and employers, including DHL and BP, to come to an agreement that averts industrial action.

But contingency plans are in place that could see soldiers being called in to drive tankers and police preventing blockades.

Mr Maude said that the general public must not suffer as a result of any action and urged the parties involved to resolve the stand-off:

“We are calling on the trade union Unite and the employers involved to work together to reach an agreement that will avert industrial action.

“Widespread strike action affecting fuel supply at our supermarkets, garages and airports could cause disruption across the country.

“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.”

Unite announced last month that it would ballot members working for seven major fuel distribution firms on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action.

The union warned that strikes could hit petrol supplies at supermarkets, garages and airports across the country.

The 2,000 drivers account for 90% of those supplying petrol to UK forecourts.

Unite said there had been “unrelenting attacks” on drivers’ terms and conditions, adding that it had been trying to establish a forum to agree industry-wide best practice on issues such as safety and training.