Fuel tanker drivers have been urged to get back round the negotiating table for the sake of London’s small businesses after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action.
The threat of strike action was raised after 2,000 members of the Unite union at seven companies were balloted over starting the first national campaign of action for more than 10 years.
Members at five of the firms backed walkouts in the dispute over safety standards and terms and conditions.
Strikes received an average of 69 per cent support in the five firms, Unite said. The companies deliver fuel to supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, as well as Esso and Shell garages.
Federation of Small Businesses London senior development manager Matthew Jaffa said: “Small businesses in London can ill afford to go without fuel.
“Over 90 per cent of businesses say that the vehicle is either crucial or important for their business operations. For deliveries to be made, goods to be provided, customers, staff and employers to get to a place of work – small businesses need fuel.
“We urge the fuel tanker drivers to re-enter into negotiations and think about how their actions will impact on the smallest businesses who rely on the road network to remain competitive.”
The government said it had prepared “robust resilience and contingency plans” to deal with strike action and these have already been put in place to reduce the amount of disruption to the public.
Hoyer, one of the firms that could be affected by strike action, confirmed it had begun training Army personnel to drive fuel tankers should the industrial action take place.
Unite has yet to name strike dates, so there is the possibility that talks in the next couple of days could result in industrial action being averted. The union would need to give seven days’ warning of walkouts, which leaves the possibility of strikes over the Easter weekend.
Some 90 per cent of the UK’s forecourts are supplied with fuel by Unite drivers, so the strike could close thousands of petrol stations.
Ed Davey, the energy secretary, said: “The Unite ballot result is disappointing. The government is strongly of the view that strike action is wrong and unnecessary. The union should be getting round the negotiating table, not planning to disrupt the lives of millions of people across Britain.”