UK motorists urged to stay calm over planned fuel strike

The UK government has urged motorists not to buy petrol in a panic ahead of a planned strike by oil tanker-truck drivers on June 13.

Uchenna Izundu
International Editor

LONDON, June 11 -- The UK government has urged motorists not to buy petrol in a panic ahead of a planned strike by oil tanker-truck drivers on June 13.

The drivers, protesting poor wages among other things, are threatening to strike for 4 days, which would seriously impact oil supplies at service stations across the country.

The tanker-truck drivers supply oil to nearly 1,000 of Royal Dutch Shell PLC's garages, small airports, and factories. According to Unite, the union representing the drivers, the strike will hit 14 terminals across mainland UK.

The Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform (BERR) estimated that Shell had one in 10 filling stations in the UK and that it was "inevitable" that there would be fuel shortages at some.

The government is preparing contingency plans to address the potential crisis and has suspended competition rules to allow oil companies to cooperate with each other on sharing oil distribution information.

The union is seeking a 13% pay increase,which it believes would cost Shell less than £1 million to settle. It has accused Shell of applying pressure on the haulage companies, Hoyer UK and Suckling Transport, to keep their salaries low.

Unite will hold last minute peace talks with the haulage companies, Shell's contractors, at the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS). But there is little hope that the talks will be fruitful, although the government, motoring organizations, and Shell have urged the parties to reach an agreement.

The strike action follows shortly after the shutdown at Grangemouth refinery, where employees walked out after pay discussions collapsed (OGJ Apr. 30, 2008, Newsletter). These incidents are worrying the government as they echo similar protests in 2000 when truckers protested soaring fuel prices and nearly brought the UK to a standstill in a "drive slow" action.

Across Europe, the haulage industry, farmers, and fishermen are also increasing pressure on their governments to address high fuel prices because of its effect on their businesses (OGJ Online, May 30, 2008).

Contact Uchenna Izundu at uchennai@pennwell.com.

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