UK fuel drivers urged to reject deal to avert strike

Thu Apr 26, 2012 5:50pm EDT

* Strike could hit supplies to petrol stations across nation

* Tanker drivers to vote on latest offer

* Government training army personnel to safeguard fuel deliveries

By Tim Castle

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - British fuel tanker drivers were urged by union leaders on Thursday to reject a deal with employers to avert a strike, bringing closer the prospect of industrial action that could seriously threaten supplies.

The Unite union said it would ballot more than 2,000 drivers over proposals to resolve a dispute with six fuel delivery firms that has rattled the coalition government and led to motorists panic-buying petrol last month.

Britain has been training army personnel to drive fuel tankers to avoid a repeat of blockades of depots by hauliers and farmers in 2000 that nearly brought the country to a standstill.

The union said it was recommending drivers vote against the deal after representatives at a special council overwhelmingly rejected the proposals because they failed to meet demands over areas such as minimum pay, pension rights and redundancies.

The drivers have already voted for a strike, but have yet to set a date for industrial action and have to give employers seven days' notice of a walkout.

The ballot will close on May 11, meaning the earliest date for a strike would be May 18.

Fuel distributor Wincanton, one of the six delivery firms negotiating with the unions, said the proposals would bring greater stability to the industry and hoped that its drivers would support them.

The two sides in the dispute have been in talks over the drivers' terms and conditions since before the Easter weekend, and drew up the latest proposals on Tuesday.

Motorists fearing an imminent strike rushed to buy fuel at the end of March after the government advised them to stock up on supplies.

Fuel retailers condemned the government's warnings as irresponsible and inept as panic buying led to huge queues at petrol stations.

A strike could hit 90 percent of Britain's forecourts and supplies would begin to run dry within 48 hours, the union says.

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