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Fuel tanker drivers are ready for strike action next month, an action which could strike a huge blow to the coalition government. In this exclusive for Counterfire, a driver explains why.

We are on the brink of battle with greedy oil companies and employers who thought that the campaign fuel tanker drivers began four years ago had gone away. Initially our fight was difficult and seemed to be going nowhere - some felt let down by the union, and many believed it was the right fight but simply at the wrong time.

But now we’ve reinvigorated and rebranded our campaign. Called ‘Enough is Enough’, the campaign has four main points:

Terms and conditions

We are demanding minimum standards for all tanker drivers. A draft agreement has been drawn up by the union with the help of the oil trades sub-committee, and this is our starting point for negotiations. The agreement takes into account the anti-social working hours of tanker drivers, and demands additional premiums for working nights, early starts, or five days over seven.

Training

We want a standard of training that is at the highest quality across the board regardless of who we work for. We are demanding a passport system whereby all drivers must meet a minimum standard to get their ‘passport’ to drive a tanker, ensuring no individual without the appropriate training and necessary competence may carry out any operation within the industry. For example, if a driver has not been trained for petroleum spirit deliveries then they would not be allowed to deliver petroleum spirit; if they’re not trained on cargo pumps then they can’t perform pump work. Simplistic, but a sensible approach to keeping the industry standard up.

Health and Safety

We want a minimum standard for health and safety. This means that no driver could be made to feel under pressure to do something that they feel is unsafe or be put under pressure to rush the job. We should have a working environment that is as calm and relaxed as possible to ensure the safety of the driver and everyone else around them.

Pension

As a direct result of the contract ‘merry-go-round’, many drivers have fragmented pensions from multiple contractors. Every time a contract is up for tender and the "employer" changes, the previous pensions schemes are not transferred over. The union UNITE has for some time now been working tirelessly to get an industry standard pension that is portable so every time a contract is lost and gained the pension moves with the driver. This has benefits for all parties as the companies do not have the same admin costs and the drivers have one continuous pension throughout their career.

It has been widely reported that tanker drivers earn £45k per annum for an average 37 hour week, if this is true it is for the minority, for the most part tanker drivers work what can only be described as antisocial hours to say the least.

Drivers will normally start a "day" shift as early as 2am, completing a 12 hour shift then passing the baton over to the afternoon shift. This pattern may be repeated four or five days a week. This can be gruelling; many drivers will have 4 days on, 4 days off, but some companies like to maximise weekend working by enforcing a five-days-over-seven working week.

Yes, we do earn a good wage, but at what cost to our family lives, health and social lives? I barely need to answer that, with what I have written so far.

Of course, many who drive other heavy goods vehicles will ask what makes out work so special.

Think about how often a goods delivery happens in a public domain where there is only one person carrying out all the parts of the delivery on their own.

Think about the product being delivered by the tanker driver, a flammable liquid that has the explosive power to do devastating damage.

One gallon of petrol will have the explosive power to transport a family of four in a middle sized hatchback for 30 - 40 miles!

That's one little green can filled with 4.5 litres. On average there are 36000 to 42000 litres of fuel on board an articulated tanker.

It’s a huge responsibility - and it shouldn’t be done on the cheap! This is why we’re demanding the industry gives us the minimum standard we deserve.

So why strike? Simple: to stop the race to the bottom!

Every time a contract gets put out to tender the companies compete based on cost. This means one thing and one thing only, an attack on the terms and conditions of workers.

It means decreased wages, tight times to do a job, poor training, poor pensions to new entrants, an unfair division between men and women doing the same jobs.

It will also discourage the best drivers from applying - and when they are essentially in charge of transporting a mobile bomb, this is more than worrying. The safety of the general public is at risk if we do not stop the rot.

I want to finish on a different note - to other goods drivers on the road. We are all professional drivers playing a valuable role. We fuel tanker drivers are not fighting for our benefit alone. But we are the section of the industry that attracts the greatest renumeration. What direction will your wages and standards go in if we’re doing the top job on the cheap? It’s largely the same companies that are trying to cut costs in both of our sectors.

We can only fight our fight with your backing, with every last person in the haulage industry saying enough is enough. By sticking together we can revitalise this industry like a phoenix from the ashes of decades of cost down agendas.

If employers want to compete then let them, not on how cheap they are but on fundamental issues such as quality not quantity, safety not speed, and with drivers who drive with pride and professionalism. As the kings of the road...

Support the Fuel Tanker Drivers' campaign: http://www.unitetheunion.org/enoughisenough

Tanker driver

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