Tanker drivers reject deal, but say one is within reach

Fuel tanker drivers' representatives have rejected a deal aimed at resolving the dispute over working conditions - but say they are not going on strike.

The Unite union's Diana Holland said proposals thrashed out with company bosses last week did not go far enough, but urged motorists: "Do not panic."

She called for further talks "because we feel we are able to reach a solution" without strikes.

Drivers from seven haulage firms are involved in the dispute.

"It is very clear that, at this point, we are not on strike, we have not announced that we are going on strike," she said.

The announcement came hours after Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband clashed in the House of Commons over the threat of a tanker strike.

Mr Cameron accused Mr Miliband of "complete weakness" for failing to stand up to Unite, while Mr Miliband called on the PM and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to apologise for provoking panic-buying at the pumps when the prospect of a strike was first raised.

'Important progress'

Ms Holland, Unite's assistant general secretary, said the union had asked conciliation service Acas to organise further talks with company bosses and was "determined" to find a way to end the dispute.

She said "important progress" had been made on issues including health and safety, and training.

But bosses needed to go further in the areas of maintaining standards, security of employment and subcontracting, she said.

"While there has been some progress, it is clear that our members need more guarantees and assurance from the employers about their commitment to meaningful minimum standards," she added.

"We call on the employers to engage with us so that we can reach a meaningful settlement that brings an end to the uncertainty in the industry."

Unite says that the industry is too fragmented and many drivers have had their terms of employment repeatedly changed.

'Complex issues'

The vote against the proposals took place after talks on Wednesday involving 60 representatives of drivers at the seven haulage companies.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey said the government understood "that these are complex issues but urge both parties to work towards a negotiated resolution with the support of Acas".

"The government continues to believe that any strike action would be wrong and unnecessary," he said.

Acas, meanwhile, said it was disappointed at the outcome following six days of "intensive talks" last week but said "the challenge now is to see if we can find a way forward".

Unite has until Friday to accept a deal or announce a strike, after a deadline for calling industrial action was extended.

It would then have to give seven days' notice of any industrial action.

RMI Petrol, the trade association representing UK independent forecourt retailers, said it had hoped for a resolution, while a spokesman for Hoyer, one of the firms involved, described Unite's decision as a "serious blow".

AA president Edmund King said: "Our message to drivers is to continue with their normal buying pattern for fuel.

"There is no shortage of fuel and we don't want to re-create another self-inflicted shortage."

Unite represents 2,062 tanker drivers, covering 90% of supplies to forecourts.

There was chaos at petrol stations last month as motorists queued to fill up after reports of panic buying.

The government faced widespread criticism after Mr Maude advised motorists to keep their petrol tanks topped up.

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