Oil firms get all-clear on subcontracted drivers

Oil company employers will continue to be able to use large numbers of subcontractors to drive tanker lorries from refineries, the DTI has confirmed.

The oil industry feared that the Government would clamp down on the outsourcing practices after reports last week that companies lacked authority to send out tankers because they were driven by subcontractors rather than employees.

But after the first meeting of the Fuel Taskforce last week, DTI Secretary Stephen Byers said, “Contrary to speculation we are not considering changes to the employment rights and responsibilities of employees in the oil sector. We have said on a number of occasions that the Employment Relations Act is the final piece of significant employment legislation for this Parliament. That remains the position.”

BP Amoco said half of its 400 drivers are directly employed and the other half are employed by Excel Logistics. A spokesman for BP Amoco said it has full authority to send out the drivers but has chosen not to for safety reasons. “They are transporting 30,000 litres of highly flammable fuel, and the safety of our drivers is paramount,” he said. “These are not Ford Cortinas.”

Both oil companies and union representatives hit back at protesters’ claims that the protests were peaceful. “There were missiles thrown at a number of cabs, tankers were followed en route and other vehicles cut in front of them,” the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Texaco added, “We had a wry smile when we heard about these ‘peaceful’ protests. At Poole and Avonmouth, trucks had to turn back because exits were blockaded. Once they did cross the picket lines protesters tried to get into cabs.”

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, said, “Drivers were told ‘We may not get you this time but we’ll get you next time.'”

The fuel crisis tested HR departments across the country as they had to cope with staffing problems caused by the petrol shortages. (News, 19 September)

Oil companies do not appear to be preparing their own contingency plans for the next threatened blockade of depots and refineries, due for 13 November. But they have pledged to cooperate with the Government.

By Philip Whiteley

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