Army training to deliver fuel in case of strike action

image captionA fuel blockade in 2000 caused widespread disruption to the public

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.

"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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