Fuel tanker driver strike averted in narrow vote

Fuel Tanker
Image caption Fuel tanker drivers narrowly backed the deal by 51% overall

A strike by fuel tanker drivers has been averted after they narrowly voted to accept a deal, the Unite union says.

Drivers from seven haulage firms backed the deal by 51% overall, while drivers in four of the companies voted to reject it.

It means the long-running dispute over terms and conditions, that resulted in panic fuel buying in March is over.

Unite said the vote left no room for "complacency" and called for quick implementation of proposals.

It added the dispute had highlighted "deep-seated problems" in fuel supply and called on the Commons energy select committee to launch an investigation into the industry.

The deal was brokered during talks at the conciliation service Acas, with a 69% turnout in the ballot.

Drivers from the distribution companies BP, Norbert Dentressangle and Sucklings voted in favour, and drivers from Turners, Hoyer, Wincanton and DHL voted against the deal.

Members of the Unite union at Hoyer had recently voted against strikes but in favour of other forms of industrial action when they were re-balloted on 8 May. The vote was held because some workers had not received papers earlier in the dispute.

A spokesman for Hoyer said: "The company is very pleased that this dispute has been resolved and looks forward to working together with Unite to implement the Acas proposals."

'A wake-up call'

The government was blamed for sparking panic buying when the row flared up in March.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude came in for criticism after advising motorists to top up their tanks with petrol and store fuel in jerry cans.

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Media captionUnite's Diana Holland says that "problems remain" within the fuel delivery industry

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: "This narrow vote in favour lifts the threat of strike action but leaves the companies with no room for complacency.

"The progress made through negotiation is testament to the brave stance members have taken in the face of growing insecurity and attacks on their profession."

The narrow vote in favour should be "a wake-up call for an industry riddled with deep-seated problems", she added.

Ms Holland also warned the "calamitous" comments made by Mr Maude underlined the UK's "unstable, short fuel supplies".

"It is not a jerry can in the garage we need, but a review of whether the industry is structured in the national interest.

"We trust that Energy Secretary Ed Davey and other ministers will take a more constructive approach in helping us bring stability and security to a nationally vital industry."

Commenting on the deal, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said it was "the right result" for those involved as well as for the economy.

"A strike would have been disruptive to the lives of millions of hard-working motorists around the country, and put unnecessary pressures on our essential and emergency services.

He added that the government had been "prepared" for a walkout and paid "tribute to the military who have been training over the last few weeks to step in if strike action had gone ahead".

"Around 1,400 military drivers have been trained and we had expected to be able to maintain the majority of fuel deliveries to forecourts", Mr Davey said.

"I am determined that the expertise we have gained through this will not be lost and will be a valuable addition to our future resilience planning."

'Very hard' sessions

Acas chief conciliator, Peter Harwood, welcomed the outcome of the Unite ballot.

He said: "The dispute was a very complex one and both the employers and the trade union representatives worked very hard during long sessions at Acas to shape a solution that addressed the issues facing the sector."

Responding to the news, AA president Edmund King said: "UK motorists greatly appreciate the tanker drivers' decision not to put them through another round of panic-buying trauma."

And Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, added he was pleased the strike had been averted.

"Our members were very worried that their hard work would be undermined by a dispute that they had nothing to do with", he said.

"Just the threat of a strike caused a lot of disruption, but at least businesses across the country can get back to focusing on what they do best - driving the economy forward and creating jobs."

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