03/04/2012 06:15 BST

Fuel Tanker Drivers Dispute: Acas Announces Talks

Talks aimed at resolving the fuel tanker drivers dispute are to be held on Wednesday, Acas has announced.

The conciliation service has been in contact over the past few days with the Unite union and the seven distribution firms involved in the row.

An Acas spokesman said: "We have now held briefings with all the relevant parties and can confirm that substantive conciliation talks will take place on Wednesday.

"Talks will take place on Wednesday morning at an undisclosed location."

The dispute over terms and conditions and health and safety has been brewing for more than a year but flared up a week ago when Unite announced that workers in five of the firms had voted to strike.

The government advised motorists to top up with fuel, leading to chaotic scenes at garages across the country as people queued for petrol, the Press Association reported.

Unite announced on Friday it would not be striking over Easter as it engaged with Acas over the peace moves.

The union would have to give seven days notice of any industrial action.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: "We welcome this development and thank Acas for their efforts to pull both sides together.

"For nearly two years, we have been trying to persuade the fuel distribution sector to work with us to defend best practice across the industry. It is vital that common, minimum standards on safety, training, wages and pensions are agreed to put a floor of best practice in the sector.

"This is the only way that the good employers can be supported and the public can be reassured that safe practice is the norm across the industry.

"We believe these matters can be resolved through meaningful negotiations. But to give these talks a chance of success, there must be an immediate end to mischievous briefing against the drivers.

"Talk of 27% pay rises from nameless employers is a deliberate effort to undermine the drivers' case when employers know full well this is not a demand. Distortions like this must stop.

"These talks must be given the best chance of succeeding. The issues facing this industry are serious. It is beholden on all parties now to work constructively to solve them."

A spokesman for Hoyer, one of the firms involved in the dispute said of the firm's contact with Acas ahead of Wednesday's talks: "This was a productive meeting which gave us the opportunity to set out through Acas a possible framework for talks and look forward to further discussion towards a resolution with Unite later this week.

"Given that safety is a mantra for our business, we believe there are some fundamental areas of agreement between ourselves and Unite over the need to harmonise health and safety standards across the industry.

"We hope that today's talks will provide an opening for more detailed ongoing discussions around the issues of health and safety, training and pensions and that Unite will return to the table prepared to call off the threat of strike action we believe would be damaging for the industry as well as to business and the general public."

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI), which represents independent forecourt operators, has written to energy secretary Ed Davey to call for a discussion on the "crisis".

He wrote: "Independent petrol retailers across the UK have had their confidence abruptly shaken by the government's perceived inability to manage the issue of a potential industrial dispute by Unite affiliated tanker drivers.

"It is now very clear to the public and to the media that government created a crisis out of a concern, with some ill-conceived recommendations and complete lack of engagement with industry to prepare for possible strike action."

Mr Madderson also stated that the UK's energy resilience for fuel required "a complete overhaul" with regard to retail forecourts.

"This analysis must include the National Emergency Plan - Fuels, as at present, our retailers believe it is not fit for purpose in terms of forecourt operations.

"It is hoped that the plan does not have to be effected next week due to industrial action as the flaws will be readily observed by all."

Research commissioned by ITV News at Ten found that three-in-four people (77%) believe the Government is responsible for causing unnecessary panic over the dispute, while 72% think that David Cameron was wrong to advise people to top up their fuel.

Just 12% of people agree that the government has handled the strike threat in a responsible way. A third of people (33%) have had trouble getting fuel for their vehicles.

When asked if fuel drivers should be banned from going on strike, the same number of people (42%) agreed as disagreed. The remaining 16% said they did not know.

Over 2,000 adults were interviewed for the ComRes poll, which was carried out between Friday and Sunday.