Esso has reassured its retailers that it has “contingency plans” in place if the threatened strike by Shell drivers goes ahead this week. Karen Dickens, Esso’s executive director, fuels marketing UK & Ireland, said she hoped drivers would work through the industrial action to maintain

supplies and get product through to sites. Speaking at the company’s Dealer Forum

at The Belfry hotel in Sutton Coldfield last week, she told the audience: “The haulier provides drivers for Shell and Esso. If the dispute is not resolved, we hope drivers will be prepared to go through picket lies to maintain supplies. We have been building stocks in the terminal to make sure their is sufficient product. We have contingency plans to make sure the right stock is on site.”

Dickens added that the rest of the market should be able to continue to operate despite the four day strike, which haulage company Hoyer UK says is planned to start at 6am this Friday. The forum, for UK and Ireland retailers, also included a networking dinner as well as a series of seminars. The event also helped raise £13,000 for Esso’s anti-malaria charity work through the charity Help Us Help.

The walkout by Shell drivers follows the collapse of pay talks between Hoyer and Suckling Transport Ltd - which both deliver fuel for Shell - and the Unite union. Unite wants a pay increase of 13.2%, while the two companies have offered 6.8%, which they say would take drivers’ average earning to £39,000.

The industrial action comes as fuel protests spread around the globe, including demos by thousands of truckers in France, Spain and Portugal and angry and chaotic scenes in India and Malaysia. These add to the recent demonstrations held by truckers in London and motorbikers in Manchester. Lorry drivers in Scotland were also planning their own protest, according to the website of TrasAction 2007.

Despite the growing anger among road users, there is still no word from Gordon Brown on whether he will consider scrapping plans for the 2p increase in fuel duty, which is due in October.

Meanwhile, the government has put its own contingency plans in place to deal with the impact of the planned Shell drivers’strike, including ensuring provisions of fuel for the emergency services. It is also looking at transporting supplies to high-demand areas.

For more information on the Esso Dealer Forum, see the July issue of Forecourt Trader magazine.