Though no strike has been announced, as yet, and British law requires one week’s notice before implementation of any worker walkout, one government minister has already suggested citizens should hoard petrol, according to an item just released by Anthony Faiola and Karla Adam in the Washington Post.
Reportedly gasoline sales are up 177 percent over last week and some filling stations have shut down their pumps, with supplies depleted by consumer-spawned shortages and higher fuel prices.
Apparently and not surprisingly, some blame the British government for the crisis, laying the public hysteria at the feet of the conservative administration, accusing them of playing football with the economy.
Unite, the trade union of some fuel haulers, has not ordered a strike, but is considering it. Any implementation of a work stoppage has been publicly put off until after the Easter holiday weekend.
"Many drivers of fuel tankers are not members of Unite, so those who have voted for strike action are in a minority,” said Geoff Dunning, CEO of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), in a statement released yesterday. “Furthermore, these drivers are all paid much more than the average for truck drivers generally, typically receiving over GBP40,000 (roughly $63,600) per year. We are also concerned at the union's implication that safety standards are low. The UK fuel distribution sector applies standards that are far above the legal minimum, with highly professional, well trained and properly rewarded drivers delivering the UK's fuel."
According to the RHA, the current shortages are a minute sample of what a fuel haulers strike would mean in day-to-day terms. As a rule, fuel haulers do not have storage facilities beyond what they carry on a daily basis. Thus, any shortage would spread at an exponential level – leading to lost workdays and business failures – in an economy still trying to shake off recession.
Only a small fraction of the members of Unite are actually fuel haulers, however, so a strike in their name could result in job losses by union members not even part of the fuel hauling business.
The Post alleges the current uproar is ill-timed for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, as the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is already under fire for a budget seen to step on the elderly while aiding the already well off. In addition, a widely publicized influence-for-sale incident resulted in the resignation of a top Conservative official after it was revealed he proffered a private dinner with Cameron in exchange for $400,000.
“This petrol issue is a self-inflicted political wound,” reportedly stated Tony Travers, political analyst at the London School of Economics. “It is unlikely to be fatal in the long run, but they do seem to have created a sense of incompetence around a government that has been seen as competent.”
The CEO of the RHA is also concerned, but not about the government as much as fuel prices and the economy.
"The safe delivery of fuel is of paramount importance: any concerns can and should be examined carefully and adequate procedures for addressing such concerns already exist,” Dunning added, “but the reliability of fuel supply is equally significant and should not be jeopardized.”
Interestingly, it would seem storing gasoline in “jerrycans” in British homes is a violation of fire codes.
In a thinly veiled attempt to throw dirt on trade unions, British officials may have shot themselves in the foot, instigating shortages where none should have arisen.
“I think it’s backfired because people have generally seen that these are schoolboy political games being played by people who should be doing responsible jobs,” The Post quoted Ed Balls, the Labor Party’s top economic official, as telling the BBC.
In the worst-case scenario, the Cameron administration would likely call out the military to haul fuel in the event of a strike – a contingency not likely to help the image of a coalition government whose approval rating has fallen to 40 percent.
Out of curiosity, we wanted to check the fuel price for diesel gas London today. Whatgas.com quoted a price of 147.43, which we assumed to be expressed in British Pounds per liter. Converting this to gallons and then to dollars, were arrived at a price of $8.93 per gallon.
So if your clean diesel car gets 40-mpg as some now do, it would still cost a little less than 25¢ a mile to drive it. That would add up to about $125 to go visit me dear old mom next week just one state away – and that’s only one way.
So if you’re paying a fuel price like $4 to $5 a gallon here in the U.S., count yourself lucky that you’re not filling up in Oxford, in the southern part of England.