Q&A: Fuel tanker strikes

The fuel tanker drivers' dispute could be over after the Unite union agreed to put a deal to its members. Earlier this month there were chaotic scenes at petrol stations after the government advised drivers to top up fuel tanks. So what is going on?

What is the dispute about?

The trade union Unite says the strike ballot is about safety standards and terms and conditions. The union says the industry is too "fragmented" and wants a "national forum" which would hold the employers to account over conditions. It claims some workers have had their contracts repeatedly renegotiated and some have had six different pension providers in 10 years. Unite also says shorter delivery deadlines have created a "turn and burn" culture. Unite insist the dispute is not about pay.

How many drivers are affected?

Unite represents 2,062 tanker drivers, representing 90% of drivers supplying to forecourts.

When could a strike be called?

No strike dates have been set, and Unite would have to give seven days' notice before any action.

How many petrol stations will be affected?

The seven companies involved - Wincanton, DHL, BP, Hoyer, J W Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners - are responsible for supplying 90% of the UK's 8,706 petrol stations. They also supply the country's airports. Workers at DHL and JW Suckling voted against strike action but backed action short of a strike.

What contingency plans are in place?

There are plans to put military personnel through an eight-day training course to enable them to take the place of striking drivers behind the wheel of commercial tankers. More than 80 "highly qualified" drivers from the Royal Air Force have been training with one oil haulage firm.

Who would get priority if fuel starts to run out?

Unite has said it is "committed to ensuring that all emergency services are not affected by action".

How much fuel can legally be stored in a domestic garage?

The HSE gives the limit as a maximum of two suitable metal containers of 10 litres and two plastic containers of an approved design, each having a maximum capacity of five litres - this is little more than a third of an average tank. The Fire Brigades Union warned fuel should never be stored inside the home.

What do the employers say about the dispute?

There is no umbrella body representing the employers but Wincanton issued a statement saying: "We are committed to an open dialogue with our drivers and Unite with a view to avoiding strike action and potential disruption to both forecourts and the general public." It also said: "A sector-wide collective arrangement for pay, working hours etc is both impractical and inappropriate, due to the differing types of operations, varying customer requirements and diversity of locations and geographies."

What happens next?

A deal between the Unite union and officials from six distribution firms has been tabled following lengthy talks at the conciliation service Acas. The union will put a "document" to its members next week, with the outlined deal then being discussed by about 60 union representatives. They could still reject the proposals or ask for changes. They could still decide to strike.

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