Union warns ministers in tanker row
The union representing fuel tanker drivers has warned that Government efforts to "politically charge" the dispute could scupper the prospect of a deal to avert strikes.
With talks set to begin at the conciliation service Acas next week, Unite urged the Government to distance itself from speculation that this week's message to stockpile fuel was part of a deliberate strategy to give the coalition its "miners moment."
The warning was issued as panic buying of fuel receded, although the AA reported fresh incidents of motorists filling up inappropriate items, such as glass flagons, with petrol.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: "We call on the Government to come clean on its whole approach to this dispute. Is it acting as an honest broker, or is it spoiling for a fight in order to get itself out of the political hole its class-focussed economic mismanagement has put it in?
"Over the last few days its every move has been designed to whip up unnecessary tension at the expense of the public. Ministers knew all along that a strike could not possibly be less than seven days away even were it to be called - that is the law. Yet they panicked the nation all the way to the petrol pumps because they imagined it would boost them in the polls. The British people know that this posturing and positioning is poisoning the prospects for an early resolution to the dispute.
"Serious industrial issues are being lost in this machismo. This is an industry of vital strategic importance, which is being rocked by cost-cutting by companies making billions in profit and where safety and training is being cut to the bone. The Government should take a lead in addressing these issues - instead it is ready to meet the companies to discuss strike-breaking, but not prepared to lift a finger to resolve the underlying problems."
Mr McCluskey said there were serious consequences to the Government's "dreadful advice" earlier this week to stockpile petrol. Labour MPs have called for the resignation of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who has faced a barrage or criticism from fire experts since advising motorists earlier this week to store jerry cans of fuel in their garages.
Diane Hill, 46, from York, was recovering in hospital today with 40% burns after vapours ignited as she decanted petrol from one container to another, setting fire to her clothing.
Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin criticised the way the ministers had provoked panic-buying after a week of difficult headlines for the Government. "My feeling is this was to try to take people's minds off donors, the Budget and pasties - and the Government added to the heat on this," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics East programme.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: "The Government has always been clear this is about doing everything possible to protect the country from a potentially crippling strike, and not about playing politics. We urge Unite to negotiate with the employers, and to make clear there will be no strike."