Fuel strike negotiations to be held this week

In a statement that has temporarily placated some courier services and parcel delivery companies, the Unite union has ruled out an Easter strike by fuel tanker drivers. Talks are expected to be held on Wednesday in an attempt to resolve the dispute without strike action.

Thursday saw 24 hours of “panic buying”, which retailers have blamed on Government mismanagement and poor advice. On Thursday morning, Energy Secretary Ed Davey advised that drivers “just need to do the sensible thing… get a full tank of petrol, not a half-tank.” The previous day, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude had suggested that people could store fuel in jerrycans at home. This advice was withdrawn when the Fire Brigade Union called it “dangerous”. The following day, a woman in York suffered 40% burns when the petrol she was decanting in her kitchen ignited.

On Thursday, like many other drivers, couriers and parcel delivery workers joined the long queues on petrol station forecourts across the UK. Teresa Sayers, chief executive of retailer group Downstream Fuel Association, said increased demand caused some UK garages to run out of fuel entirely. According to independent experts, demand for petrol rose 172% that day, and diesel 77%. Brian Madderson, chairman of independent retailers’ group RMI Petrol, accused ministers of “making a crisis out of a serious concern”. He went on to say the Government should have sought industry advice “weeks ago”.

Although the possibility of an Easter strike has now been ruled out, there may still be a strike after the holiday if conciliation talks fail. Some 90% of UK forecourts are supplied by the 2,000 or so members of the Unite union at the centre of the dispute. The drivers, who deliver fuel to Esso and Shell garages, as well as supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have called for minimum working conditions covering pay, hours, holidays and redundancy. Drivers have spoken out about the “turn and burn” culture, saying it eschews public safety by pressurising drivers responsible for huge quantities of volatile fuel to deliver even faster.

Couriers and parcel delivery companies apprehensively await the outcome of talks between employers and unions, which should take place early this week.

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