Millions of motorists face the prospect of petrol shortages as the tanker drivers voted yes to go on a nationwide strike.
In the first national campaign of its kind since the fuel protests which brought the country to a standstill more than ten years ago, members of the Unite union voted in favour of industrial action in a row over their terms and conditions.
The drivers are sources of supply to 90 per cent of the UK’s forecourts, and the union said a strike could close about 8,000 petrol stations across the UK.
While it is still not known what form the industrial action will take, any walk-outs could start as early as next Monday – just days before the Easter weekend, when millions of extra cars are expected on Britain’s roads.
However, the UK government claimed it has already set in motion emergency rescue through the special training of a section of British army for petrol tanker driving, to ease the tension and aid supplies.
A government official said a “couple of hundred” military tanker crews would be trained to cover in a bid to maintain supplies to garages as well as hospitals and schools.
Sales of petrol were up 45% on Tuesday and diesel was up 20%, in what appeared to be a sign of panic-buying by motorists, with the trend of attempts to have extra petrol continuing.
UNITE has not set any strike dates and has been stressing its willingness to negotiate.
The union will have to make an announcement by tomorrow if it wants to hit the start of the Easter holidays.
It represents around 2,000 drivers in seven distribution companies, although union members in two of the firms voted against strikes.
Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of ministers to discuss contingency plans if a strike goes ahead.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude suggested drivers should safe their days by filling up petrol kegs with extra litres, but colleagues are kicking against the move likening it to putting fire bomb on the ceiling claiming keeping petrol in garages could to be ptentially dangerous.
Unite said the action had not been prompted by concerns over pay, but rather “corners being cut” on safety and training, along with the decision to swap final salary pension schemes for “inferior” money purchase schemes.
But motoring groups warned that it would be drivers who would suffer the most as a result of the action, with many remembering the “misery” caused by fuel blockades in 2000.
Diana Holland, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said: “This is not about pay – this is about ensuring that high safety and training standards are maintained, so that our communities are safe adding that: “No longer can it be acceptable that oil giants rake in profits, while shirking their responsibility for the stable supply of a national commodity. The measures we are proposing are reasonable, responsible and sensible. We urge them to act and listen.”