Army training to deliver fuel in case of strike action

A man using a petrol pump A fuel blockade in 2000 caused widespread disruption to the public

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Army drivers are being trained to deliver fuel to petrol stations in case of a possible strike by tanker drivers.

The Unite union is balloting on industrial action, saying there have been "unrelenting attacks" on drivers' terms and conditions.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the government had "learnt the lessons" of the past and stood "ready to act" in case of a walkout.

Unite said the government should be putting pressure on oil companies.

Len McCluskey, Unite's general secretary, said: "For over a year we've been desperately trying to bring about some stability in the sector and urging government ministers to persuade contractors and oil companies to engage in meaningful discussions with us.

Start Quote

We always hope that negotiations can resolve the situation”

End Quote Len McCluskey General secretary of Unite

"Unfortunately it's proving difficult to get them to respond. That leads to frustration as workers feel that no one is listening to them."

The vote closes on Monday and any agreed strike could be held next month.

This means any industrial action could possibly be over the Easter weekend.

Mr McCluskey said a positive result was expected on the ballot.

"We'll need to analyse the turnout and feeling of members before deciding whether to take any industrial action, but we always hope that negotiations can resolve the situation," he added.

The 2,000 drivers being balloted account for 90% of those supplying petrol to UK forecourts.

Ministers say the training of army drivers will begin next week as part of contingency plans being drawn up to avoid major disruption to fuel supplies.

Call for agreement

Mr Maude said the government had learnt lessons from the fuel blockades of 2000 - which caused chaos and almost brought the country to a standstill.

"We are calling on the trade union Unite and the employers involved to work together to reach an agreement that will avert industrial action," he said.

"Widespread strike action affecting fuel supply at our supermarkets, garages and airports could cause disruption across the country.

"The general public should not and must not suffer from this dispute, and strike action is manifestly not the answer.

"Although we are pushing for an agreement, we have learnt the lessons of the past and stand ready to act to minimise disruption to motorists, to industry and, in particular, to our emergency services, in the event of a strike."

The Petrol Retailers' Association represents around 5,500 forecourts and its chairman, Brian Madderson, said he did not think the government was prepared for a strike.

He told the BBC: "We have had no word from the Department of Energy and Climate Change whatsoever.

"So we have not been asking our members to keep their stocks at a high level.

"We just haven't heard anything from the Department of Energy at all."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Simply the tanker drivers have a right to withdraw their labour. It is dubious whether the Gov. has the moral right to use public servants - the army - to break that strike for the benefit of private businesses. To say they are holding the country to ransom is like saying petrol companies are squeezing the country because of their position. Hmmmm Can it be right for one and wrong for the other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    As an industrial dispute and not a matter of national security, ordinary non- commissioned soldiers should not be pressured into do doing this political dirty work for oil corporations. Or is this the state admitting that it does takes sides, and is not in reality a neutral arbiter in disputes between the bosses and the workers, that in fact it always sides with the bosses, the ruling class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    The role of the armed forces is supposedly to defend the country from external threats, not to side with the bosses against the workers. Although if the army does side with the bosses against the workers in this dispute it will expose the reality that the real role of the armed forces along with the police is to defend the interests of the ruling class against the interests of the working class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    While in principle I agree workers have the right to withdraw their labour I think that it is often counter productive and serves only to hurt the rest of society who blame the strikers not the government.

    Unions are increasingly being seen as just as much a vested interest as the bankers and the rest of us are caught in the middle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    Having served in the army for 24 years, joining at the age of sixteen and not long been discharged, I think it is wrong to use the military to break what are legal strikes, the government have in part caused the problems with the high tax and forcing people of the road with fuel prices, The military are not tools to be used when things dont go your way Syria is an example of this.


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