Fears over safety and growing instability in the fuel industry are pushing oil tanker drivers closer to national strike action,  Britain’s largest union, Unite, has warned.

Voting will begin next week in a strike ballot of over 2,000 drivers who work for seven major fuel distribution firms. The ballot will embrace about 90% of drivers supplying petrol to UK forecourts.

The companies deliver fuel for around 11 oil companies supplying forecourts across the UK. Strike action could hit the petrol pumps of household names such Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda, BP, Esso and Shell, as well as airports.

Unite makes clear that the vote is not about pay but is about establishing a forum to agree industry-wide best practice on safety, training and terms and conditions in order to stabilise a nationally vital industry.  It claims its attempts to progress the forum have been thwarted by employers’ unrelenting attacks on drivers’ terms and conditions.

"Tanker drivers work in an increasingly fragmented, pressurised industry with concerns building that corners are being cut on safety and training in a bid to squeeze profits and win contracts," said Matt Draper, Unite national officer. "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.

"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."

Over the next two days the union will be serving notice of the ballot for strike action on seven major distribution companies, Wincanton, DHL, Hoyer, BP, J.W Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners.

“For over a year we have strived to talk some sense into this industry but they have shown no genuine interest in bringing stability to the supply of this vital national commodity," said Draper.

“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 industry that is now controlled by faceless global giants.”

"This is a clear case of a predatory industry putting its profits and greed before the wider well-being.  This workforce is now saying ’enough is enough’."