Fuel and petrol stocks will be hit if oil distribution employers fail to end the attack on tanker drivers’ livelihoods forcing strike action closer, trade union Unite has warned.

The union, which has over 3,000 oil tanker driver members, has written to employers to encourage them to back a fuel oil distribution sector-wide collective bargaining forum.

The forum would bring together major players from the supply industry, including oil majors Shell and BP, and haulage companies such as Wincanton and JW Suckling, to agree to the introduction of industry minimum standards, including pensions and health and safety standards.

The union is urging the new minister for energy, Ed Davey, to take seriously warnings that the fuel supply is too important to be left to market forces.

Unite said this forum is needed to restore stability to a nationally vital sector which has become worryingly volatile after a decade of contracting out by the oil majors. Drivers have become increasingly frustrated by the cost-down agenda which has seen some workers have six different employers in the past 10 years as companies fold or take over competitors.

The union added that instability is now a hallmark of the delivery of the nation’s fuel supply, and that standards and public safety are being compromised.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: “Unite has been urging the major players in the oil industry to get behind calls for the introduction of industry minimum standards for over a year. Yet, instead of working with us to protect drivers they have been turning the screws and adding to the stress of what is a dangerous job.

“We are giving the employers a last chance to act responsibly. Work with us to restore stability to the national fuel supply or risk fuel shortages over the coming months.

“The attacks have to stop. If the employers fail to do so, then we are left with no option but to ballot the entire sector for industrial action.

“Last week, Shell reported it has made billions in profits. Other companies like Conoco have seen their profits jump by 70%. But while drivers are being squeezed at the pumps, tanker drivers are having their pay cut and their jobs made far more difficult.

“Enough is enough - it is about time that this industry showed some responsibility to the people who help make it so fantastically wealthy. It cannot be acceptable that these corporate giants can line their pockets yet blight the workforce and the fuel supply with insecurity.

“We urge the new energy secretary to take this call seriously too. Government must not sit this out. If it is serious about making big business behave responsibly, it can start by using its influence to get the oil companies around the table because the nations fuel supply is too important to be left to the boardroom to dictate.”