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Union issues ultimatum over Shell pay talks logo

Second round of industrial action piles the pressure on ministers and motorists

· Union issues ultimatum over Shell pay talks 
· Dispute bites companies not directly involved

Motorists face the growing prospect of continuing fuel shortages after it emerged that a second wave of strikes by Shell tanker drivers is planned for next week.

Downing Street said yesterday the government could get through the first round of strikes, which began at 6am yesterday, without an emergency plan to cap the amount of petrol customers can buy.

But in a sign the crisis could spread, haulage firms and petrol retailers not affected by the strikes said they were suffering knock-on effects from the action.

More than 600 drivers for Hoyer UK and Suckling Transport, the companies contracted to distribute to Shell filling stations across the country, began striking yesterday after pay negotiations broke down. During the Unite union’s four-day action, set to last until Monday, drivers will be staffing pickets at about a dozen distribution depots and terminals.

Ron Webb, Unite’s national secretary for road transport and a chief negotiator, told the Guardian there would be “more industrial action” next week unless a pay settlement is reached. He said the second wave would be another four-day action, and could start as soon as next Friday, leaving just a three-day window for affected petrol stations to refill their tanks.

“That’s going ahead,” he said. “There’ll be no resolution of this dispute until we reach a pay settlement.” A Hoyer official confirmed the company had been told “further strikes” could be expected.

Many Shell depots are used by other petrol companies, meaning drivers for several retailers and supermarkets have had to decide whether to cross the picket line. BP, Total and Esso enacted contingency plans, redirecting their drivers to collect fuel from unaffected depots. Last night striking drivers at the Stanlow refinery in Cheshire were joined by about 15 BP drivers who refused to start work.

In Plymouth, union leaders said the strike action had been joined by drivers from every company and fuel supplies in Devon and Cornwall could start to run dry by tonight. Up to 25% of BP’s petrol deliveries are believed to have been impeded, and some drivers for Wincanton, a firm which distributes fuel to 3,700 Total and Chevron filling stations, have refused to work out of solidarity with the strikers.

The Wincanton drivers joined Shell drivers in protests at Cardiff, Plymouth and Avonmouth, leaving tankers stranded behind picket lines. Dave Turner, a company spokesman, said: “The company recognises that it may become affected by knock-on industrial action at fuel terminals.”

Figures from, a fuel comparison website, indicated about 920 petrol stations supplied by Shell could face shortages over the coming days. Queues formed yesterday at isolated filling stations throughout the country. More than 900 Shell outlets – which supply 10% of the UK’s petrol – are expected to start drying up over weekend. Shell said: “Our primary concern is for motorists who may be inconvenienced as a result of the industrial action.”

Wales, north-west and south-west England, appeared to be the worst affected areas, with dozens of petrol stations displaying “no petrol” signs early yesterday afternoon.

Although there was limited evidence of panic buying, drivers across the country have been filling their tanks full in anticipation of the ongoing strike action. The Petroleum Industry Association, which monitors fuel in the UK, said sales have increased by 30% over the last week.

Business minister John Hutton has advised motorists to “just buy the fuel they need”. Oil analysts have warned there could be “short term spikes” in petrol prices in those areas hit hardest by the strike, such as those nearest depots being picketed, but the impact on average national prices is unknown.

The petrol industry, which has been stockpiling supplies, played down reports of blocked supplies. The Petrol Retailers Association said the effects of any strike would be “minimal”.

Unite’s strike stems from its claim that the salary for drivers transporting Shell petrol – around £32,000 – has not changed since 1992. It claims that during the negotiations that ended on Thursday, Hoyer and Suckling only offered a 0.5% increase to salaries. The haulage firms released their own figures, claiming that their offer would have raised the “average earnings” of drivers from £36,500 to £41,500.

Adding to the sense of crisis, police warned that a “go-slow” fuel protest on the M6 motorway today could bring yet more disruption.

The company

Royal Dutch Shell, commonly known as Shell, is the world’s second-biggest quoted oil company, employing 104,000 people in more than 110 countries, with headquarters in The Hague. It is led by Jeroen van der Veer, a cost-conscious Dutchman who regularly cycles into work. Shell’s main business is searching for and recovering oil and natural gas. Other businesses include petrochemicals and refined oil products, including fuels, lubricants, bitumen and liquefied petroleum gas for home and industrial use. In February Shell posted profits of $27.6bn (£14bn), triggering protests from union leaders and green groups. 
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