March 26, 2012 / 3:55 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-UK fuel tanker truck drivers vote to strike

* 2,000 truckers could strike as early as next week

* Government ready to use troops

* Company accuses union of political motivation

By Simon Falush and Stephen Addison

LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - British fuel tanker drivers voted on Monday to go on strike to improve terms and conditions, raising the prospect of disruption of supply to petrol stations around the country in the run-up to the July London Olympics.

A spokeswoman for the Unite union said it needed to give seven days' notice, so a strike could begin next Monday at the earliest.

The vote unnerved the Conservative-led coalition government. The previous Labour government suffered a dent to its popularity in 2000 when a previous strike led to petrol stations running dry.

"With the London 2012 Olympics approaching, it is unacceptable and selfish to behave in this manner and jeopardise our international reputation," Ed Davey, the minister responsible for energy and climate change, said.

The union, which represents 2,000 members who are involved in the action, said that drivers face growing job insecurity as a result of insecure contracts and a 'beat the clock' culture.

"These votes send a clear message throughout the industry and should prompt all the major companies to get around the table to establish minimum standards," Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary, said.


A spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: "This is obviously a great shame, but we've got plans in place to make sure there's minimum disruption to the country."

The threat of a strike prompted the government to say over the weekend that it might draft in soldiers to drive fuel tankers.

"We are encouraging stocks to be built up, so that the essential services don't get left short," Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told Sky TV.

"And we have asked the Ministry of Defence to start training a number of potential tanker crews, so that we can do our very best to keep supplies going."

Wincanton, the biggest company affected, has been working with the government to keep tankers on the road.

Chris Kingshott, managing director for manufacturing at Wincanton, said the strike appeared to be politically motivated, to secure the right to bargain on behalf of the workforce across the whole country.

"They seem to be arguing for national bargaining. It's impractical and we can't do it. The drivers that are going on strike operate in the top quartile for standards."

Some 61 percent of those voting across seven companies were in favour of strike action, the union said. There was an average turnout of 69 percent.

Unite is the largest trade union in Britain and Ireland, with 1.5 million members across a wide range of sectors.

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