Fuel Strike Threat to Small Businesses

Fuel tankerA fuel tanker drivers’ strike would be a “reckless” move that would “clog the arteries of the British economy” and have a “catastrophic effect” on small businesses, business groups have said.

However, businesses should not panic but draw up contingency plans in the event of staff being unable to get to work, business groups have advised following the Unite unions threat of strike action over pay and conditions for fuel tanker drivers.

Drivers at five of seven companies that supply 90% of the UK’s fuel forecourts have voted to strike should their calls for a review of health and safety standards, working hours and pay go unheeded. Drivers at the other two firms voted for action short of a strike.

They argued that pressure to cut costs and speed up deliveries has created a “turn and burn” culture in the industry with a neglect of health and safety that threatened driver welfare. The union wants a “national forum” where employers could also be held to account for poor pay and employment standards — some drivers claim they have had contracts repeatedly renegotiated and their pension provider changed up to six times.

Small-business groups have reacted angrily to the threat of strike action. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, described the threatened strike as “bad news for British businesses”. “A tanker drivers’ strike threatens to clog the arteries of the economy,” he said. “If the fuel runs out, firms will not be able to transport goods, staff will not be able to get to work and it will cause chaos.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said a strike was “the last thing businesses need to contend with” as they struggled to stay afloat.

“This could have a catastrophic effect. Not only will firms struggle to access the goods they need to run their business, staff won’t be able to get to work, and smaller companies will be forced to shut down and lose a day’s takings,” he said. “Public services could end up being affected, and parents who can’t get childcare will have to take time off and lose a day’s pay. For this strike to go ahead would be totally reckless.”

The Federation of Small Businesses declined to comment until the outcome of talks with Acas was known. The conciliation service is trying to convene meetings between the union and the companies involved.

But the Forum of Private Business (FPB) offered advice specifically to small businesses.

“Don’t overreact, but don’t ignore the situation either,”

said FPB spokesman Robert Downes.

“First and foremost, make sure there is a contingency plan in place in the event of staff being unable to get to work. They need to be aware of exactly what is expected of them in the worst case scenario.”

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