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16

Shell: Tanker Drivers’ Strike

Tanker drivers who deliver fuel to Royal Dutch Shell petrol stations in the UK went on strike...

Tanker drivers who deliver fuel to Royal Dutch Shell petrol stations in the UK went on strike Friday after last-ditch talks over a pay dispute broke down.

On Thursday the drivers rejected last-minute pleas from Gordon Brown to call off the action, which will halt deliveries of fuel to about 1,000 Shell garages.

Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of Unite, the drivers’ union, said Shell garages would start to run out of petrol “almost immediately’” and all of the oil companies forecourts would be affected within 24 hours.

The union decided that the strike, which began at 6am on Friday, would go ahead after rejecting an improved pay offer, worth 7.3 per cent this year, from the haulage companies Hoyer UK and Suckling Transport, the sole suppliers to Shell garages.

A second offer, of a 7.3 per cent rise followed by a 6 per cent increase next year, which Hoyer said would increase annual average earnings “to around £41,500 ($80,854)”, was also rejected by the union.

Unite plans to picket oil terminals, including Ellesmere Port on Merseyside and Grangemouth in Scotland, to prevent supplies getting through to Shell garages.
The oil company runs about 10 per cent of the country’s 9,500 forecourts.

The Petrol Retailers Association on Thursday insisted there was sufficient fuel at rival garages to supply motorists. Shell should also have had time to ensure that storage bunkers at their own forecourts would be as full as possible. The association appealed to the public to avoid panic buying, which it said would make the situation worse.

The industry is privately irritated at the intervention of the prime minister, who they believe has exaggerated the threat to supplies and added to the tension, encouraging panic buying.

Mr Brown, speaking at his regular press conference in Downing Street, refused to rule out calling in the army to keep fuel flowing – warning that the government was willing to do “everything we can” to stop petrol pumps running dry. He appealed to both sides to focus “all efforts’’ on making last-ditch talks successful and avoid a damaging strike.

Bernie Holloway, a company spokesman, said: “We offered a substantial amount to the drivers. We extended our offer to the very limits that our business could sustain. We are disappointed that our improved offers have been rejected. Unfortunately, it looks likely now that there will be a damaging and costly strike.”

Unite, which had sought a 13 per cent increase this year, claims drivers’ pay had effectively stagnated since Shell outsourced its delivery operations in the 1990s. It said provision had “been made for fire, police and the emergency services”.