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Strike action by Jet tanker drivers
Alistair Tice, Yorkshire Socialist Party
Strike action by Jet tanker drivers, coupled with the bankruptcy of the Coryton oil refinery in Essex, could lead to fuel shortages and petrol running out at the forecourts.
123 oil tanker drivers employed by road haulage firm Wincanton began a week long strike at 5am on Tuesday 24 January.
Employed on the ConocoPhillips contract, they deliver fuel to Jet petrol stations. After a 83% vote for action, these Unite members are striking for job security - they want ConocoPhillips to guarantee they will abide by TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employees) if they end or fragment the Wincanton contract.
In effect, the tanker drivers are being subcontracted to ConocoPhillips who want to cut costs by putting the Jet contact out to the lowest bidder which would see the Wincanton drivers either lose their jobs or see their terms and conditions cut if they aren't protected by TUPE.
Three major fuel distribution depots are affected, in Kingsbury, Stockton-on-Tees and the biggest on Immingham docks, where nearly all the 86 drivers and fitters manned picket lines in and out of the refinery depot.
Unite steward Barney said, "There's usually 400 units a day in and out of here, so far we've given dispensation to just one.
"Most other tanker drivers" - the sector is 95% unionised - "are not even coming to this depot but those that do are turned round to loud cheers."
Later a couple of Calor Gas tankers turned in. "They'll be agency drivers" says Kev, "they'll have been threatened with the sack if they don't cross."
However five minutes later, a Calor tanker came out, the driver jumped out of the cab and said: "Now I know all the facts, I'm not filling up."
Another Unite driver rep Nick Dennis reported that at Kingsbury, all but one of 50 Wincanton drivers on the Texas contract have refused to drive past the Jet picket line there.
He said that other drivers understand that ConocoPhillips are testing the water. National Unite officer Matt Draper explained: "It's all part of the bosses' cost-down agenda, if they can cut pay and conditions, it won't get passed on at the pumps, it'll just mean more profits for the oil majors." Unite branch secretary John Roscoe added, "Total, Fina and Elf are threatening to do the same thing when their contracts end in September." That's why Unite are fighting for a "minimum standard" agreement across the industry. This strike could determine whether that's achieved.
Jez, another steward thought the employers are using the recession to have a go. John said they all feel "Enough is enough." Kev said "We've got to stand up to these fat cats!"
The tanker drivers at Immingham certainly are, picketing around the clock in six-hour shifts. They expect their action to force Conoco to give them a written guarantee regarding TUPE.
Meanwhile, the Swiss company Petroplus, which owns and operates the 586 acre Coryton oil refinery in Essex, has gone into administration, threatening the livelihoods of 500 employees and 350 contractors.
Together with the strike, this could lead to fuel shortages and petrol running out at the forecourts.