Fuel tanker drivers have voted overwhelmingly to go on strike in a row over terms and conditions and safety, union Unite said on Monday.

Around 2,000 members of Unite at seven companies were balloted for 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 have been balloted for industrial action – Wincanton, DHL, Hoyer, BP, J.W Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners.

Soldiers are poised to take control at the pumps as part of contingency plans for a strike.

Diana Holland, Unite Assistant General Secretary, said: “These votes send a clear message throughout the industry and should prompt all the major companies to get around the table to establish minimum standards.

“This is not about pay – this is about ensuring that high safety and training standards are maintained, so that our communities are safe.

“It is about a simple measure, the creation of an industry-wide bargaining forum. It is about bringing fairness and stability back to an essential national industry.”

A Hoyer spokesperson said: “We are dismayed at the outcome of the Unite ballot for industrial action involving 650 drivers on our fuels contracts.

“Particularly as only 215 drivers out of the 650 voted for strike action and we therefore believe that this action is being driven by a small disaffected group of employees.

“Hoyer has some of the best health, safety and training standards in the petroleum distribution sector.

“This has resulted in a health and safety record of which Hoyer is proud. In our history of delivering petroleum products for large oil companies, Hoyer has not had a major accident or serious injury to a member of our team.”

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey said the ballot result was “disappointing”: “The government is strongly of the view that strike action is wrong and unnecessary. The union should be getting round the negotiating table, not planning to disrupt the lives of millions of people across Britain.

“This is an industrial dispute and we strongly urge Unite to resolve it by getting back to the negotiating table, not by threatening the nation with economic and social disruption.

“Our economy is just getting back on its feet and any action that makes that harder is totally unjustified.

“With the London 2012 Olympics approaching, it is unacceptable and selfish to behave in this manner and jeopardise our international reputation.

“Unite has committed to ensuring that essential services are not disrupted. We trust it will live up to this commitment and not put anyone in harm’s way.

“The government stands ready to take whatever action we can to minimise the impact of any strike. If we have to, we will use emergency powers to make sure supplies for emergency services are prioritised and we will work to ensure trained military personnel are available to drive oil tankers. The Police will be on hand to ensure that strike action does not intimidate or prevent drivers that wish to work from doing so.

“While their main concerns are pay and conditions, which are matters for their employers, they have also raised health and safety. We take health and safety very seriously and will be looking carefully at what Unite is saying. Ensuring people are safe at work is a priority for us and we are committed to resolving any issues around this.

“But we are clear – first and foremost – the parties must get back around the table. There is no justification for this. It’s the wrong action at the wrong time.”

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