TANKER drivers in Ellesmere Port could strike in a dispute over job cuts.

The Hoyer Petrolog UK employees based at the Stanlow oil refinery, along with workers at the fuel storage facility in Bramhall, Cheshire, began balloting for industrial action last week.

The ballot closes this Friday (October 9) and if drivers vote in favour of action, Unite The Union says strikes could begin later this month and would create "serious disruption to fuel deliveries" across a large part of England.

Hoyer, which delivers to petrol stations, supermarkets and airports, is proposing to make six of the 20-plus workers in Cheshire redundant.

The company says the decision has "not been taken lightly" but given the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on retail and aviation fuel volumes, retaining all of its drivers is "unsustainable".

During the summer, Hoyer approached its drivers with an offer of six alternative roles with a guarantee of "no redundancies for 12 months" if they agreed to a temporary short-time working/lay-off clause that would only be used in "extreme circumstances".

However, Unite opposed the compulsory lay-off clause saying it would "allow the company to lay workers off without pay and without warning".

The union says it has entered into "detailed and lengthy negotiations" with Hoyer and proposed costed alternatives, but they were rejected and talks have now broken down.

Unite regional officer Steve Gerrard, said: "Hoyer is drinking in the last chance saloon, if it is serious about avoiding highly disruptive industrial action.

"Unite has proposed detailed alternatives to avoid job losses but these have been rejected by Hoyer’s local management.

"If industrial action is taken it will be absolutely as a last resort, but it has to be understood this will have a huge impact on fuel deliveries across a large chunk of England.

"It is imperative that Hoyer returns to the negotiating table and enters into meaningful negotiations to save jobs and avoid the need for industrial action and the inevitable disruption this will cause."

Responding to Unite's ballot for strike action among Hoyer Petrolog UK drivers at Stanlow, a Hoyer spokesperson said: "We have some of the best drivers in the industry who are critical to us in providing an outstanding service to our retail fuels and aviation customers.

"As such, the decision to reduce this highly skilled workforce has not been taken lightly. However, these redundancies are a result of a dramatic reduction in our retail and aviation fuel volumes over the past six months.

"During the Covid-19 crisis, the company’s aviation volumes dropped to just 5% of normal levels, more recently settling at around 40%.

"Furthermore, our retail fuel volumes dropped to just 30% of normal levels, more recently settling at around 85%. The further tightening of lockdown restrictions will in no way improve these current volumes whilst it is clear we will not return to ‘normal’ for at least the next 12 months, if at all.

"During the summer, Hoyer approached our drivers with an offer to guarantee ‘no redundancies for 12 months’, subject to them agreeing to a number of mitigating measures, including a temporary short-time working/ lay-off clause that would only be used in extreme circumstances.

"Our drivers collectively decided that this was not an offer they wished to take up. Alternatives for redeployment have also disappeared following increasing uncertainty regarding future volumes.

"Against an unprecedented economic backdrop Hoyer has strived to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our business and on the livelihoods of our drivers and staff.

"Since the start of the crisis we have topped up all wages to 100% of basic pay for all those who have been furloughed and supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

"However, the huge reduction in volumes, with an increasingly uncertain future, means retaining jobs for all our drivers is unsustainable.

"Despite this, we remain committed to working with Unite The Union to ensure that all viable jobs can be secured and we look forward to receiving their costed alternative proposals.

"In the meantime, we are finalising our contingency plans to ensure any unwanted industrial action will not impact our valued customers or consumers."