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Tempers fray as Shell strike begins to bite

The Independent

Tempers fray as Shell strike begins to bite

Petrol sales up 25 per cent as drivers queue at pumps across the country

By Jonathan Owen and Ian Griggs

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Tempers frayed and frustration rose with the lengths of the queues on garage forecourts yesterday, with people hurling insults and vehicles literally scraping past each other as motorists jostled to get to the pumps.

With striking workers continuing to blockade Shell petrol depots around the country, there were growing reports of panic buying and people travelling dozens of miles just to fill up. Supermarkets have said they struggled to meet demand, and some garages are predicting they will run out of fuel.

More than 100 petrol stations had closed by noon yesterday, as strike action began to bite. And in the 24 hours from noon on Friday to yesterday lunchtime, demand for petrol was 25 per cent higher than for the same period last week, according to government figures passed to The Independent on Sunday.

Huge stocks of petrol are already stuck at fuel depots as a result of a national strike that has seen hundreds of drivers support calls not to cross picket lines.

At a Shell service station, in the normally well-behaved London borough of Richmond, tempers frayed as the queue snaked into the main road. A smartly dressed woman in her 50s leapt out of her Mercedes to remonstrate with the driver in front. “Do you mind moving up?” she demanded, before stalking back to her car and slamming the door. The driver, a man with two children in his car, swore under his breath. Another driver scraped a white van as he rushed into a space, prompting rude hand gestures from the van’s driver. And as a teenage driver swerved round him, Patrick Smyth, 50, fumed: “Cheeky little cow … There are some real prats in this queue.”

The four-day walkout by fuel-tanker drivers began on Friday. And the drivers’ union, Unite, warned yesterday that their strike will be repeated this week if their demands are not met.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, urged both sides to resume talks, adding that contingency plans were in place to minimise disruption. But the dispute, over pay for drivers working for a contractor that transports fuel around the country for Shell, remains deadlocked. Unite says its members’ pay has not risen since 1992 and is fighting for a basic-wage increase from £31,800 to £36,000.

Yesterday there were signs that motorists may not be the only ones affected: easyJet passengers at Stansted suffered a 45-minute delay when their plane had to refuel before taking off for Edinburgh because the Scottish airport was running so low on supplies.

The Government attempted to calm a sense of rising panic yesterday. A spokeswoman said: “We do have emergency powers, but… the strike is only four days and we do not have a fuel shortage; we simply need to ensure distribution is effective.”

A Shell spokesman said: “Regrettably, it is inevitable there will be a significant impact on our petrol stations.” He said there were “very few reports of Shell service stations running out of either petrol or diesel fuel” and that contingency plans are “working well”.

Should the problem escalate, the Government may have to consider measures such as fuel rationing, and using troops to drive tankers and protect fuel depots.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tempers-fray-as-shell-strike-begins-to-bite-847459.html

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