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  1. ITV Report

Talks begin to avert fuel strike action crisis

Government advice prompted panic buying at the pumps last week. Photo: Reuters

This dispute has been simmering for a year. Last week we saw some premature evacuation of the garage forecourts with an outbreak of panic buying that dried up fuel supplies around the country but the fact that the two sides are in the same building today to talk is an encouraging sign that a strike may be averted.

Unions and haulage bosses are due to begin talks today. Credit: Reuters

For a start, after Monday's session at ACAS, an agenda has been agreed that probably includes Unite's nine-point plan with a wide range of topics to cover including pay, pensions and safety training.

But the way this sort of negotiation works is different and a long way from the "beer and sandwiches" approach of industrial disputes long ago.The talks take place at an "undiscosed location" and our TV cameras are not encouraged to wait outside even if we know where it is!

In the initial sessions, the haulage bosses will be in one room and Union representatives in another with their individual mediators and they are the ones who then talk to each other and negotiate so there are no unhelpful confrontations.

And, after last week's panic buying, we all know what will happen if the talks break down and a strike is called.

Union representatives for tanker drivers will begin talks with haulages bosses today. Credit: Reuters

It's worth remembering that the union has to give seven days notice of any action which means nothing can happen till well after Easter

While the Government must be crossing its collective fingers that talks are successful, there would be a sting in the tail. Having been widely blamed for the rush on the pumps after advice to "top up" tanks, if there is NO strike all that panic could have been avoided .

And while ministers still insist the advice meant we are better prepared if fuel supplies are affected, I suspect there will be a new blizzard of criticism. But I can give you one certainty. No minister will EVER use the words 'jerry can' again!

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