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Fuel strike bites in South West, as Shell agrees to new pay talks

Times Online
The Times
June 17, 2008

Fuel strike bites in South West, as Shell agrees to new pay talks

A no fuel sign outside a Shell petrol station in Brighton, East Sussex

(Clive Gee/PA)

An emergency meeting called for Wednesday is increasing fears that the strike could go nationwide

New talks to agree a pay deal for 641 drivers contracted to distribute fuel for Shell in the UK are to continue today.

Drivers employed by Hoyer UK and Suckling Transport are to return to work from 6am tomorrow after a four-day strike — but the drivers’ union, Unite, has given warning of another four-day-stoppage from Friday no agreement is reached on pay.

The union said: “We are still talking and I can say that we are not many miles apart.”

There are renewed concerns that if the pay dispute rumbles on, drivers contracted to work for other oil companies may also join in industrial action.

Such a move would be illegal and police chiefs are under instructions to keep oil tankers moving in and out of oil terminals and distribution depots, in the event of unlawful action or picketing.

Unite representatives for drivers employed on other contracts have convened a meeting for tomorrow to discuss the latest situation. The agenda will depend largely on the outcome of today’s resumed talks.

The union is concerned that some drivers who had refused to cross picket lines of Shell drivers had been threatened with initimidation. There was no evidence that any company had started disciplinary proceedings against their drivers.

Oil industry bosses have admitted that if a new stoppage is likely this week the 72-hour window to distribute fuel stocks nationwide would prove challenging.

Drivers employed by Hoyer and Suckling will returnto work but have imposed a ban on overtime shifts.

The UK Petrol Industry Association has appealed to motorists to continue to buy sensibly, after the stoppage brought more chaos than had been expected.

Petrol rationing had to be introduced in some parts of the country to deal with shortages. Across the South West independent retailers limited sales to 15 litres or introduced an upper limit of £10, £15, £20 or £25 depending on stock levels. Leading brands are expected to adopt a similar policy if they need to eke out supplies.

Fuel shortages mainly affected Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Avon and the city of Bristol. There were further problems in Cardiff, Bridgend, Barry, the Vale of Glamorgan and Swansea where many people commute to work by car.

Hauliers, angry about the high level of duty on fuel, added to the chaos by staging protests outside refineries at Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock and urging drivers not to corss picket lines.

There were also sporadic problems in Worecestershire and Herefordshire, the North West, North Wast and West Midlands.

At the BWOC Foxhayes garage at Exwick, near Exeter, all petrol and diesel was priced at £1.99 a litre. This worked out at more than £9 if calculated in gallons and is double the average £1.18 a litre across the country and more than the £1.30 average price per litre in the South West region.

Ron James, the manager, said that he had increased the prices to prevent panic buying and quell demand until his stocks were replenished. Motorists choosing to pay the higher rates were offered a voucher pledging a £24 discount off an MOT at the garage.

Fuel increases of 14p were also reported in the North West, where small independent garage chains have traditionally reacted to fuel shortages with price rises.

A total of 616 forecourts ran dry yesterday, 281 of them owned by Shell. Shell has a total of 880 outlets and represents one in ten of all UK petrol stations. Many more Shell stations were expected to run dry overnight because they are receiving no delieries at all.

The situation was better than Sunday, when 647 pumps ran dry. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said the figures showed that most tankers were on the road and able to make deliveries. ”It is possible there may be further stock outs but it is clear that motorists have shown common sense and have not exacerbated the situation which has helped,” it said.

Ministers are still hopeful that a deal can be reached to avert the threatened second round of strike action and are reluctant to activate emergency powers to ration fuel and give priority to essential users.

Ray Holloway, director of the Petrol Retailers’ Association, said: ”The Government is rightly taking the view that a four-day tanker strike involving one brand should not be sufficient reason for the UK to call a state of emergency. It would send out all the wrong signals.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4148639.ece

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