More on the Tanker Drivers


Shell Fuel tanker
Image by kenjonbro via Flickr


The tanker driver’s union, Unite, and the fuel distribution industry are going to meet later this week to try and resolve their dispute, and avoid a tanker drivers’ strike.

The Unite general secretary, Diana Holland, says:

This industry used to be one run by the oil companies alone. Over the years it’s been contracted out to other companies and the conditions and the terms were kept pretty solidly at the beginning. But over the years they have become eroded and eroded.

And they are threatening a strike.

I wonder whom they will be striking at? After all, there is not one single distribution company. Ms Holland herself was basically complaining about the fragmentation of the industry. And she was saying that terms and conditions vary by employer.

According to the law, as I understand it, a Union cannot strike at one company because of a dispute with another. That is called “secondary action” and is illegal. As far as I can see, then, a national tanker drivers’ strike would be illegal, unless the Union claimed to be in dispute with all the employers at once – which would be hard since their terms all vary.

The Union can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a national strike to complain about the fact that terms and conditions vary across employers!

If they were really concerned about members’ terms and conditions, they could, of course, threaten those employers who are offering worse terms or conditions with a strike against those employers alone. That could be effective in driving up terms and conditions in the industry. But instead they are threatening a national strike that is of questionable legality.

The conclusion has to be that Unite have no interest in improving their members’ terms and conditions. They are more interested in posturing.

The Government’s response, of course, was crass in the extreme. William Hague is still attempting to defend their now-abandoned advice to motorists to stockpile fuel:

The country is in a better state of preparedness now than it was a week ago for the eventuality of a tanker strike.

He is fooling nobody.

The whole crisis was engineered by a grandstanding trade union, and a foolish Government that played into their hands.

Royal Snail Mail Gets Even Slower

The Communications Workers’ Union has voted for a national strike at Royal Mail. In the run-up to Christmas, the timing has obviously been calculated to cause maximum damage to the business. (Christmas is one of the remaining times of the year when people actually still want to send large volumes of traditional mail.)

The Royal Mail website doesn’t mention the strike or the dispute at all. In fact, it highlights “Free Advice for Your business – create a Royal Mail tailored growth plan” which will apparently help you “discover new ways to find new customers, keep existing customers and save time and money”.

The Royal Mail Group corporate site has a news release condemning the plans for the action, apologising for any inconvenience to customers, and blaming everything on the “irresponsible” union. It carries a helpful link for information about the strike: “Detailed customer advice on delays caused by CWU strikes can be found on the Royal Mail web site at”. The link takes you to the Royal Mail home page. That’s the one that doesn’t mention the strike.

Obviously they’re doing their best to avoid disruption then.

When asked what the dispute is about, they come out all innocent-eyed and say they have no idea why the union members want to strike. “Royal Mail has already completed the major efficiency changes planned for 2009, both nationally and in London, under the 2007 Pay and Modernisation Agreement, leaving no reason for the CWU to continue its unjustified strikes.”

The Union’s website says that “Royal Mail is Failing”, that the strike vote “is a huge vote of no confidence in Royal Mail management” and that “they say no to Royal Mail’s arrogance”. It says that, “We want reassurances on job security, covering both redundancies and full-time part-time ratios” and “the Government must act now to resolve the pensions deficit which is crippling the Royal Mail’s finances and chances to modernise effectively”.

So basically they want the taxpayers to bail out their pension fund and guarantee their jobs. They claim to have accepted the need for job cuts as mail volumes drop (10% drop in the last year alone), but the tone of those remarks suggests otherwise.

As the management and the unions square up to each other for this old-fashioned industrial dispute, the positions of the two sides remind me of British Leyland 30 years ago. If this company were not a State monopoly, it would go bust. Nobody wants to use it any more. Its customers only do so because they have effectively no choice. I reckon a reliable delivery company that charged even twice what the Royal Mail does would get lots of customers.

A word of advice to both the management and the unions of Royal Mail. Get your act together or your business has no future.