Supplies of petrol to Shell garages across the UK started to dry up today as hundreds of tanker drivers began a four day strike, with fears that other companies could have problems stocking up with fuel.
Members of the Unite union walked out of fuel depots and terminals across the country at 6am and reported that drivers from other firms, including those on BT contracts, refused to cross picket lines.
Some independent drivers also turned back in support of the strikers after talking to pickets, including those at Stanlow on Merseyside.
The union said the strike had been “solidly” supported and picketing will continue throughout the weekend and until the strike ends on Tuesday morning.
The government has urged motorists not to panic buy fuel as Shell only has around one in 10 of the UK’s petrol stations.
Police were on duty at the picket lines but they allowed the strikers to talk to other drivers.
At Shell’s refinery in Stanlow, Ellesmere Port, pickets cheered when drivers not involved in the dispute turned their tankers around.
The union said all 150 drivers on Shell contracts at the site were on strike.
The pickets held up placards which said: “Shell profits gush” and “Drivers’ pay trickles”.
At the Jarrow oil terminal in South Tyneside six strikers mounted a picket line and the scene was repeated at up to 14 sites across the country.
Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite launched a fresh attack against Shell accusing the company to get involved in the dispute between the union and the drivers’ employers – Hoyer and Suckling.
Mr Woodley said Shell had been “greedy” by outsourcing the drivers’ work years ago so it did not have to final salary pension schemes and other benefits.
Mr Woodley said Shell was making profits of more than £1.5bn (€1.9bn) a month and could easily afford to settle the dispute.
Hoyer insisted it had made an improved pay offer during talks yesterday which would take drivers’ pay to around £41,500 (€52,500).
Business secretary John Hutton warned the strike will have a “disproportionate effect” and said the action could not be justified.