Unite has ruled out Easter strike action by tanker drivers in a bid to focus on talks. The announcement came as the union confirmed it was ready to start substantive talks through Acas as soon as possible.

Unite said it had been seeking to establish minimum standards in the fuel distribution industry for the past year. "The industry has become increasingly fragmented and unstable," said a spokesman. "As contracts are chopped and changed, standards in training, health and safety and terms and conditions are being eroded."

The union stressed that what it was seeking was not unreasonable, and similar to standards in place elsewhere in the oil industry. Minimum standards governing the offshore oil industry have been in place since 2000, covering health and safety, training and terms and conditions.

Following results of Unite’s ballot, which voted in favour of strike action, on March 26 motorists began panic buying, sending fuel demand surging to unsustainable levels by March 29. Fuel polling data for independents revealed that volume uplifts against the previous week were as much as 375.9% for super diesel, according to RMI Petrol. Diesel volume was up 76.8%, unleaded rose by 171.8%, and 358.1% for super unleaded.

RMI Petrol chairman Brian Madderson blamed the government for inciting panic and dismissed press reports that some retailers were profiteering. "Government created this fuel crisis and now must take full control," he said. "There is no evidence of price profiteering with the poll indicating price increases of less than 1% over the past week. This is in line with the movement of wholesale costs. Undoubtedly there will be isolated cases of higher prices for financial reasons."

Meanwhile, A tanker driver’s blog put declining safety standards and working conditions firmly at the heart of the dispute.