All sides focused on avoiding tanker drivers’ strike

STILL TALKING ... a petrol tanker drivers' strike looks slightly less likely.
STILL TALKING ... a petrol tanker drivers' strike looks slightly less likely.

THE threat of a national fuel tanker drivers’ strike which could hit a South Tyneside oil terminal and local petrol supplies has “focused” all sides involved in the dispute, a regional union boss said today.

Drivers are expected to vote by the end of this month on a deal aimed at averting action.

Although Unite union officials say progress has been made on health, safety and training issues, they still claim the proposals do not go far enough.

More than 2,000 drivers at seven oil distribution companies are being asked to respond to proposals to end the dispute, after a vote in March in favour of a walk-out.

If a strike goes ahead, it could close down the Shell UK terminal at Quay Corner, in Jarrow, which has been the scene of previous protests, including a blockade of the site by farmers protesting about fuel duty in September 2000.

Unite regional organiser Nick Haldon said: “The threat of industrial action seems to be working in focusing people’s attentions.

“If there is going to be strike action, this will not happen until June, because seven days’ notice will have to be given at the end of May, once Unite members have responded to what is being offered.

“However, a strike is the last thing we want, and it’s normally a good indication when people are still talking.”

The latest dispute blew up in March when Unite announced that workers at five distribution companies had voted to strike over pensions and health and safety issues.

There was panic-buying at the pumps in South Tyneside after the Government advised motorists to stock up.

Conciliation service Acas has been involved in hosting talks between tanker drivers and distribution companies.

Last week, Unite’s assistant general secretary, Diana Holland, warned the latest proposals “do not give enough guarantees that the instability and insecurity in the industry will come to an end.”