Troops stand by as fuel-tanker drivers back call for strike

Energy Secretary slams union after it warns that industrial action could close 7,900 petrol stations

Fuel-tanker drivers have voted in favour of industrial action, raising the possibility of the first national strike for more than a decade.

About 2,000 members of the Unite union at seven companies were balloted over terms and conditions and safety standards, with the resulting vote in favour of a strike said to be overwhelming.

Unite drivers supply fuel to 90 per cent of the UK's forecourts and the union said a strike could close up to 7,900 petrol stations. The Government has announced that soldiers are being lined up to stand in for the tanker drivers if strikes go ahead.

Members of Unite working for five distribution firms delivering fuel for household names such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, BP, Shell and Esso backed the call for strike action by an average of 69 per cent. Turnouts across the five companies averaged 77.7 per cent. Diana Holland, Unite's assistant general secretary, said: "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. This is not about pay – this is about ensuring that high safety and training standards are maintained, so that our communities are safe." The Government said it had "robust resilience and contingency plans" to deal with a strike and had already started to put these in place to minimise any disruption to the public.

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. The police will be on hand to ensure that strike action does not intimidate or prevent drivers that wish to work from doing so."