Tanker drivers delivering fuel to forecourts across the UK have voted in favour of strike action, sparking feelings of shock  and surprise among petrol retailers.

Members of union Unite working for five major fuel distribution firms delivering fuel for household names, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, BP, Shell and Esso backed a call for strike action by an average of 69%. Turnouts across the five companies averaged 77.7%.

Independent retailer David Charman, who runs Parkfoot Garage in Kent, said: "I’m really shocked - tanker drivers have a good job as it is so this result is surprising. With everything else we have to worry about, this could be another nail in the coffin for the industry. There will be sites that won’t be able to get fuel. They’ve said the army will deliver fuel but does the army really know what it’s like to deliver fuel on a busy forecourt? They can’t be taught that overnight.

"I don’t think the government has any concept of how little fuel stocks we have," added David. "A reasonably modern service station has enough storage capacity for about three days. It’s a very serious issue and one the government needs to get on top of very quickly. Rationing doesn’t work and having emergency sites will put tremendous pressure on retailers. It will be the end for many people."

The results for the seven companies involved in the ballot are:

Turners 94.4% in favour on a turnout of 81.8%.

Norbert Dentressangle 74.8% in favour on a turnout of 71.3%.

Wincanton 68.4% in favour on a turnout of 71.9%.

BP 60.2% in favour on a turnout of 85.8%.

Hoyer 59.7% in favour on a turnout of 79.7%.

In DHL drivers voted against strike action (44.6%), but voted in favour of action short of a strike (53%). Members in Suckling voted against strike action (85%) and action short of strike (76%).

Over 61.1% of those voting across the seven companies voted for strike action.

Unite said that tanker drivers work in an increasingly fragmented and pressurised industry where corners are being cut on safety and training in a bid to squeeze profits and win contracts. Drivers face growing job insecurity as a result of the contract ‘merry-go-round’ and a ‘beat the clock’ culture has flourished with drivers forced to meet ever shorter delivery deadlines, it added.

The union said final salary pension schemes have been swapped for inferior money purchase schemes, and some workers are now on their sixth pension in as many years, with 10 to 15 years left to go in the industry.

Commenting Diana Holland, Unite 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. It is about a simple measure, the creation of an industry-wide bargaining forum. It is about bringing fairness and stability back to an essential national industry.

“No longer can it be acceptable that oil giants rake in profits, while shirking their responsibility for the stable supply of a national commodity. The measures we are proposing are reasonable, responsible and sensible. We urge them to act and listen.”