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Tanker Drivers Set To Back Strike

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Tankers could be driven by the military if a strike occurs
Tankers could be driven by the military if a strike occurs

The threat of a strike by fuel tanker drivers in a dispute over terms and conditions and safety standards is set to come a step closer on Monday when the result of an industrial action ballot is announced.

Around 2,000 members of Unite at seven companies have been voting on whether to launch the first national campaign of action for over a decade.

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

Workers in seven major distribution companies were balloted for industrial action - Wincanton, DHL, Hoyer, BP, J.W Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners.

It is likely that a yes vote will be returned but Unite is unlikely to name any strike dates until it has held meetings with local union reps over the next few days.

The Government has announced that soldiers are being lined up to stand in for the tanker drivers if strikes go ahead.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the Government had "learnt the lessons" of the past and stood "ready to act" if stoppages go ahead.

Mr Maude said: "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.

"The general public should not and must not suffer from this dispute and strike action is manifestly not the answer.

"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."

Jon Trickett, Labour's shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "It is essential that a strike is averted. The Government should get a grip and show that it understands the gravity of current situation.

"They should immediately insist that both sides begin negotiations as every second's delay is a wasted opportunity and a moment lost."

Unite stressed that the dispute was not about pay, describing the UK fuel distribution industry as "unstable and fragmented".

"Contracts chop and change every three to five years, bringing with each change a fresh assault on working conditions," said an official.

"Drivers are passed between successful bidders like the commodity they move around, with their terms and conditions suffering. Some workers report having six different pension providers in 10 years as a result."

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

Unite said final pension salary schemes were increasingly being replaced with an inferior money purchase scheme, while jobs were being cut.