PETROL supplies to Shell garages were hit yesterday as hundreds of drivers launched a four-day strike in a long-running row over pay which union leaders warned will lead to shortages over the weekend.
Members of the Unite union employed by two companies on Shell contracts walked out at 6am and mounted picket lines which they said drivers from other firms refused to cross.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged both sides to resume negotiations, adding that contingency plans were in place to minimise disruption.
Industry officials said there were no reports of panic-buying by drivers.
But there were reports of drivers topping up their tanks with small amounts of fuel or filling up spare cans, despite government pleas not to buy more petrol than usual.
Unite officials said the action was “solidly” supported and warned that the strike will have a worsening effect on supplies to Shell garages over the weekend.
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”.
In Plymouth, union leaders said the strike action had been joined by drivers from every company and fuel supplies in
Devon and Cornwall could start to run dry by tonight.
Shop steward Richard Burrows said the two Plymouth depots were the only fuel supply for Devon and Cornwall and there are pickets at both.
He said the next closest depot was Avonmouth in Bristol and added that 140 drivers representing every fuel company were supporting the action.
Unite joint leader Tony Woodley joined strikers on the picket line at Stanlow and said he was “bitterly disappointed” that extensive talks in the past two days had not resolved the dispute.
The union is likely to call more strikes if there is no breakthrough to the deadlocked dispute at the end of the current walkout, although it is expected that fresh talks will be held within the next week to try to settle the row and avert further action.
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