Striking drivers stop petrol flow to North

By Imran Ali

Toll Carriers' driver Craig Campbell is among six drivers on an indefinite strike over better pay and conditions. Photo / John Stone
Toll Carriers' driver Craig Campbell is among six drivers on an indefinite strike over better pay and conditions. Photo / John Stone

Six of the eight drivers employed by Toll Carriers in Whangarei went on an indefinite strike at midnight on Wednesday, demanding a pay rise of about 2 per cent or to about $28 an hour from their hourly wages of $20 and $25.

Toll Carriers supplies fuel to 32 Gasoline Alley Services (GAS) and seven BP service stations throughout Northland. The strike does not affect other petrol stations.

A long-lasting strike is expected to put pressure on fuel supplies but the union is claiming the situation could be dire by the weekend.

BP spokesman Jonathan Mills said the strike would not have any effect on the company as it had its own fleet it could use if needed.

But he acknowledged that the longer the strike lasted, the more pressure it would put on supplies.

GAS finance and operations manager Nahid Ali said its sites wouldn't be affected by the strike.

With nine years experience as a tanker driver, striking worker Craig Campbell said he was scraping the barrel at the end of the week.

Since Toll Carriers took over the delivery of fuel six years ago, he said drivers have had a 2 per cent pay rise annually but it paled into comparison with drivers from other companies who received bonuses, loyalty benefits and regular overtime pay.

"I really want them to step up to the mark. I love the job and all we're asking is equal pay. That's not much to ask," said the father-of-two.

Mr Campbell said other options were available to him if his employer didn't come to the party.

The striking workers belong to First Union and organiser Jared Abbott said his members have been bargaining with Toll Carriers since January but claimed the company was unwilling to match industry rates.

Toll Group has assured its customers that it had enough certified fuel drivers to ensure a constant supply of fuel.

The union believes otherwise.

Spokesman Christopher Whitefield said Toll had been negotiating with the union for some of its northern fuel drivers since January and hoped to have any differences resolved shortly. "As the current dispute only affects a very small number of employees, Toll has enough certified and compliant fuel drivers to ensure its customers' fuel supplies will not be disrupted," Mr Whitefield said.

Union organiser Jared Abbott said BP and GAS may cope for one or two days but the situation would be dire by the weekend.

The drivers, he said, were seeking pay rates closer to what drivers doing deliveries for other major oil companies received.

Bargaining broke down after Toll refused to offer union members what the company paid non-union staff with less experience, Mr Abbott said.

"BP dominates the market in Northland. For drivers delivering their fuel to be paid rates that are in some cases lower than store workers within the same group is appalling."

- Northern Advocate

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