UK Gas Stations Struggle as Fuel Strikes Continue
A four-day strike over pay by hundreds of tanker drivers hit Shell fuel stations across Britain on Friday after last-ditch pay talks broke down.
The dispute affects roughly 1,000 or one in ten of the country's fuel stations, many of which are expected to run out of fuel stocks by the weekend.
But despite some picketing of fuel depots and sympathy action by other tanker drivers, there was little sign of panic buying by motorists.
The dispute is not connected to the protests over high fuel prices that have swept Europe.
Another fuel price protest involving truck drivers is due to take place on the M6 motorway in northern England on Saturday.
"It's extremely disappointing that the talks between the employers and the unions have ended without resolution," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Friday.
"We would strongly urge the parties to this dispute to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible," he added.
The drivers' union Unite asked for a 13 percent pay rise, saying they have not had a pay increase since 1992 while the Anglo-Dutch oil giant is making profits of 1.3 billion pounds ($2.54 billion) a month. (See accompanying video for more.)
But Shell said it was not party to talks which broke down on Thursday between Unite and haulage firms contracted to deliver fuel to Shell stations.
The two haulage firms involved say they had offered pay rises of 7.3 percent backdated to January and another six percent from January 2009 and asked Unite to put the offer to a ballot of its members.
They said the double pay rise would take a driver's annual pay to 41,500 pounds.
They said this offer had been rejected.
Unite said the dispute could have been resolved if Shell had stepped in rather than sitting on the sidelines.
"One of the world's richest companies is prepared to play Pontius Pilate and see the British public inconvenienced rather than settle this dispute for a sum smaller than the chairman's pay increase last year," said Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey.