The fuel tanker drivers need to force the employers to accept industry wide standards to prevent pay and conditions deteriorating to the level in general haulage argues Angry Trucker

Tanker drivers picketThe fuel tanker bosses seem to have decided hot air can replace concessions in the tanker drivers dispute.

This is the only realistic assessment of the report-back to stewards on Thursday.

The stewards were briefed on negotiations so far, which (when you cut out the employers’ waffle) is that the only area where there appears to be movement is on training. Here, the employers have agreed to suggestions put by the relevant statutory bodies for industry specific training and qualifications meeting most of the union’s requirements. There will be an industry ‘passport’ issued to individual drivers specifying the level of competence demonstrated in each aspect of the industry without which no driver will be able to enter the industry.

This goes a long way to satisfying the drivers demands for no dilution of the standards currently required, ensures a uniform standard of training across the industry, and should rule out the possibility of new companies trying to win contracts on the basis of lower overheads by reducing training standards.

However, that was it. And that was from input from government bodies, not employers.

On each of the other areas, the employers stonewalled. They have been good enough to guarantee they will abide by all the relevant codes of practice, and will respect the basic provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment (TUPE) legislation.

On industry-wide bargaining, and common standards of pay and conditions, they “have no objection” to it in principle, but “fail to understand the need” given that they (in most cases) exceed the union’s demands.

In other words, “we ain’t going to rule out setting up new companies to screw down terms and conditions”.

On pensions, they agree that a common-to-all industry wide pension plan is worth considering, “but negotiations would have to be ongoing considering the complexity of the subject” – translated, that reads “We are prepared to talk as long as you are prepared to sit and listen. But don’t expect us to do anything.”

So in effect, the government safety regulators have accepted the need for improved training systems. And the employers have guaranteed they do not intend to break the law.

Not exactly groundbreaking. The stewards agreed, after long discussion, that there was too little from the talks for them to recommend the membership to call off their ballot decision, but that they would take the “offer” back to the members for their final decision.

This is fine, so long as the stewards use the report-back meetings to re-state the case for standing firm. It could be of use in ensuring the drivers as a body feel an integral part of the negotiations, and re-affirm their commitment to halt the race to the bottom.

The danger lies where some stewards may not feel as confident in arguing the union’s case, and allow backsliders to gain the initiative.

We have to make the argument explicit: the employers intend to bring new companies into the industry, employing drivers on sub-standard pay, working excessive hours. Either tanker drivers stand firm and force the employers to accept industry wide standards, or within a few years pay and conditions will deteriorate to the level in general haulage.

Drivers may feel that could not happen to them, but the reality of allowing two-tier wage structures (with new entrants on inferior terms) is always that the lower paid drag down the conditions of the higher paid. This has to be spelt out at every drivers meeting.

The drivers have chucked down a challenge to the employers – “Stop trying to shaft us. We are worth every penny. We will not trade off our standards or conditions”. Now is the time to put up. To do anything else will be a green light to every scum-sucking cheapskate that thinks they can rake it in at our expense.

In summary; don’t turn your garden sheds into mini-Buncefields, but don’t rely on the fuel companies to keep the forecourts supplied.