Fuel Strike Threat Lingers As Tankers Union Prepares To Resume Talks

Posted: 1/04/2012 06:54 Updated: 1/04/2012 08:02   PA

Fuel Tanker Strike Talks

The union representing fuel tanker drivers is preparing to enter peace talks amid a plea to the Government not to scupper the prospect of a deal to avert strikes.

With talks set to begin at the conciliation service Acas this week, Unite urged the Government to distance itself from speculation that the message to stockpile fuel was part of a deliberate strategy to give the coalition its "miners moment".

Queues have now shortened on petrol forecourts after drivers were urged not to panic-buy fuel.

The Government issued new advice, telling motorists there was "no urgency" to top up tanks, after Unite ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said yesterday: "We call on the Government to come clean on its whole approach to this dispute. Is it acting as an honest broker, or is it spoiling for a fight in order to get itself out of the political hole its class-focused economic mismanagement has put it in?

"Over the last few days its every move has been designed to whip up unnecessary tension at the expense of the public.

"Ministers knew all along that a strike could not possibly be less than seven days away even were it to be called - that is the law. Yet they panicked the nation all the way to the petrol pumps because they imagined it would boost them in the polls.

"The British people know that this posturing and positioning is poisoning the prospects for an early resolution to the dispute.

"Serious industrial issues are being lost in this machismo. This is an industry of vital strategic importance, which is being rocked by cost-cutting by companies making billions in profit and where safety and training is being cut to the bone.

"The Government should take a lead in addressing these issues - instead it is ready to meet the companies to discuss strike-breaking, but not prepared to lift a finger to resolve the underlying problems."

Mr McCluskey said there were serious consequences to the Government's "dreadful advice" last week to stockpile petrol.

"That advice has now been withdrawn - yet the Government knows it was never necessary. Who is going to take responsibility for this fiasco?

"This could have been avoided. For the past two years we have asked this Government to work with us to sort the problems in this industry. We asked them repeatedly to help ensure that Acas talks began in a conducive and helpful environment. However, it is becoming clear that they had no interest in this, preferring instead to plot to take down a union."

Labour MPs have called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced a barrage or criticism from fire experts since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.

Diane Hill, 46, from York, is in hospital with 40% burns after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another, setting fire to her clothing.

Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin criticised the way the ministers had provoked panic-buying after a week of difficult headlines for the Government.

"My feeling is this was to try to take people's minds off donors, the Budget and pasties - and the Government added to the heat on this," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics East programme.

A spokeswoman for BP said demand had eased following the new Government advice.

An AA spokesman said Panic buying had "dramatically dropped", adding: "I think where there has been a problem, it has been waiting for petrol stations to be replenished and some drivers have interpreted that as a continued problem."
A Conservative Party spokesman said: "The Government has always been clear this is about doing everything possible to protect the country from a potentially crippling strike, and not about playing politics.
"We urge Unite to negotiate with the employers, and to make clear there will be no strike."

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Filed by Chris Wimpress  |