Fuel tanker drivers for one of Britain's biggest energy firms began a four-day strike June 13 over a pay dispute as the government tried to reassure worried motorists. The walkout, which began at 6:00 am (0500 GMT), will affect Royal Dutch Shell's filling stations: the Anglo-Dutch energy giant owns one in 10 garages across the country.
Talks between officials from the Unite union and managers from the two companies that deliver fuel to Shell filling stations failed to break the deadlock.
The government has urged the public not to panic buy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said contingency plans had been drawn up and urged the two sides to resume talks. "We have been working very closely with industry to put in place detailed contingency plans to reduce as far as possible and to minimize the disruption to the driving public. Brown had previously said the government might revert to using the military to prevent the pumps running dry.
Companies had promised to heed government advice not to panic buy fuel despite the threat of a strike, a survey showed. A Shell spokesman said: "As a result of Unite's strike, regrettably it is inevitable there will be a significant impact.
At Shell's Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, truckers held placards reading "Shell profits gush" and "Drivers' pay trickles". Although the strike is specifically about pay, it comes against a backdrop of soaring oil prices around the world. "It is clear that the oil price is unsustainably high, risks damage to the global economy and is affecting severely the lives of millions of people, particularly the poorest people around the world," Brown said after talks with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in London.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008