Tanker driver talks bid to avert fuel strike

Negotiations are taking place today between the Unite union and fuel haulage firms in an attempt to avoid further panic-buying at the pumps.

Acas, the conciliation service, is overseeing what it calls "substantive" talks after initial briefings on Monday with tanker drivers represented by Unite and their bosses.

Unite says it wants to see minimum safety standards introduced alongside a "floor of best practice" for training, wages and pensions.

"We believe these matters can be resolved through meaningful negotiations," general secretary Len McCluskey said.

"But to give these talks a chance of success, there must be an immediate end to mischievous briefing against the drivers."

Senior oil industry managers claimed at the weekend that if they bowed to the demands of union chiefs then fuel tanker drivers' salaries would soar by over a quarter.

"Talk of 27% pay rises from nameless employers is a deliberate effort to undermine the drivers' case when employers know full well this is not a demand," Mr McCluskey added.

"Distortions like this must stop. These talks must be given the best chance of succeeding."

The return to the negotiating table is a welcome relief for the government as well as motorists, after Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude last week recommended that motorists stockpile jerry cans of petrol.

He subsequently apologised for the remark but is widely viewed as having damaged the government's reputation for competence.

Mr Maude's comments led to a massive spike in fuel purchasing which only subsided once the Unite union announced it would not instigate strikes over the Easter holiday.

Britain's average retail fuel usage is 100 million litres per day, according to the Retail Motor Industry Association. It said the number of tanker movements needed to replenish petrol stations on March 29th was nearly double the 2,300 daily average.

Acas chief conciliator Peter Harwood, explaining the way his organisation works, said that in "complex disputes" briefings and meetings would not follow a rigid pattern.

"We'll basically be as flexible as we need to be," he said.