UNITE claims (pdf) that the industry is unstable and fragmented, with workers being badly affected by a series of changes to contract and pension arrangements.
Firms, anxious to win contracts, are also cutting corners on health and safety and training. A ‘beat the clock’, ‘turn and burn’ culture has flourished with drivers forced to meet ever shorter delivery deadlines.
Among those companies where the tanker drivers have voted for strike action, turnout and support for action seem fairly high.
Meanwhile the Government has been criticised for hinting that it might not be such a bad idea to top up fuel tanks in case strike action affects petrol supplies.
It is important that people look at their contingency plans because, should there be a dispute, which is something obviously we want to avoid, then disruption is inevitable. Although fuel duty will rise by 3p in August, concerns about working conditions and safety are behind the threatened industrial action.
It could be argued that this advice will maximise the impact of the strike on the public – and thus draw sympathy away from the drivers’ cause. Another concern has been raised by the Fire Brigades Union. Francis Maude’s advice to store some petrol in a garage or jerry can, as well as encouraging a run on the forecourts, might be a fire hazard:
“There is a real danger the public will start storing fuel in inappropriate ways if the Government is encouraging panic buying and storage,” he said. “This advice is wrong and must be withdrawn.”
Tackled on the issue, Mr Maude refused to withdraw his advice directly, saying it was “not the case” that it would increase the risk of explosions.
It’s nice to be able to report that the Labour response seems – perfectly sensible. Ed Miliband has told Cameron to calm down the rhetoric and get both sides talking to avert a damaging strike.