Published on 30 Mar 2012 Sections

Why the fuss about fuel?

As the Unite union rules out tanker driver strikes over easter, Channel 4 News asks what is fuelling the current petrol crisis?

Drivers queueing up outside a petrol forecourt (Reuters)

Why is there the prospect of fuel shortages?

Around 2,000 members of the Unite union at seven distribution companies (Wincanton, DHL, Hoyer, BP, J.W Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners) have voted to strike. Unite drivers account for 90 per cent of staff supplying UK petrol forecourts and industrial action could take place on 3 April.

The move is the result of a dispute over terms and conditions and safety standards. 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.

As well as Esso and Shell, retailers such as supermarket chains Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all use the chains for their deliveries. The distribution companies also supply the UK’s airports.

Read more: ‘Lives at risk if fuel strike goes ahead’, says minister

Unite union has said there will be no tanker driver strike over Easter (Reuters)

What do the drivers want?

Unite drivers say they want common standards on training, health and safety, and working conditions and for there to be official monitoring of these through a forum. Unite says the drivers are also unhappy about their pensions which they say in some cases has meant drivers having several different providers in 10 years.

Tanker drivers work 12 hour shifts, driving a 44 tonne vehicle, holding between 36,000 and 40,000 litres of petroleum product.

Wincanton, one of the companies whose drivers are threatening to strike says it has been involved in developing a forum though it has excluded pay from the forum’s remit. It says a sector-wide collective arrangement for pay, working conditions and hours is “impractical and inappropriate” due to differing types of operations and other factors. It says it has not received notification of action.

Read more: where can you get the UK’s cheapest petrol?

People have been panic buying fuel in anticipation of a shortage (Reuters)

How many petrol stations will be affected?

Unite drivers supply fuel to 90 per cent of the UK’s forecourts and the union said a strike could close up to 7,900 petrol stations.

Read more: UK tanker strike threatens petrol station chaos

Unite union has said there will be no tanker driver strike over Easter (Reuters)

What plans are in place to deal with a fuel shortage?

The government convened a meeting of the COBRA emergency committee to discuss how it would handle a strike. One of its options is to use “a couple of hundred” military personnel to drive delivery tankers and there are reports that RAF drivers are being trained for tanker driving duty.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude raised eyebrows when he suggested drivers may want to fill up jerrycans as a “sensible precaution”.

Read more: Army ready to step in as fuel strike looms

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