Oil tanker drivers in the Unite union have voted to strike over their working conditions at five major distribution firms.
The ballot covered over 2,000 workers at 50 sites on 37 contracts at seven haulage companies. They account for 90 percent of the tanker drivers in Britain.
If a strike went ahead it could quickly lead to widespread petrol shortages at the pumps.
Driving is a skilled and dangerous job, with drivers working 12 hour shifts in charge of a 44 tonne tanker fuel of flammable petrol.
Unite accuses haulage companies of “cutting corners on safety and training” in a “race to the bottom” to win contracts for oil companies.
These contracts are increasingly short term, leaving drivers with little stability. Some have had as many as three changes of employer within a year, while others are on their fifth or sixth pension scheme.
Unite is calling for a national agreement on working conditions, including health and safety, and a national forum to uphold standards.
“We should not accept a lowering of standards so that the oil companies can maximise their profits,” said Unite national officer Matt Draper.
Overall the vote was 61 percent to strike, although this varied from company to company. In some cases the vote for action was overwhelming—for example, workers employed by Turners voted 94 percent for strikes on a
turnout of 82 percent.
A majority of drivers also voted to strike at Norbert Dentressangle, Wincanton, BP and Hoyer UK. But only a minority supported strikes at Suckling Transport and DHL.
The government is conscious of the power these workers have. It plans to start training troops to drive the tankers as of this week, in case it needs them to break the strike.
In 2008, a strike by drivers employed by Hoyer and Suckling on a Shell oil contract won a 14 percent pay rise in just four days of action.
A major part of the Shell drivers’ strength came in the refusal of drivers at other firms to cross picket lines. This
solidarity can win again.
Unite’s subcommittee for the oil sector was set to meet on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
They should call strikes as quickly as possible—and organise picket lines to beat the oil bosses back.