Scores of petrol tanker drivers working from a Midland oil terminal are set to walk out on Friday at the start of a four-day protest.
Members of the Unite union employed by two firms working on Shell contracts will walk out from 6am until 6am the following Tuesday, in a pay dispute which could hit one in 10 filling stations across the UK.
Hoyer, the larger of the two firms contracted by the oil giant, has 136 of its 641 drivers working from Kingsbury Oil Terminal in Warwickshire.
The other company, Suckling Transport, involved in the dispute does not have any workers based at Kingsbury.
The huge oil terminal, co-owned by all the leading oil companies, should be operating as normal throughout the strike for most of the oil firms.
However, Shell deliveries will not be taking place to or from the facility because of the dispute.
A spokeswoman for Hoyer said: “These drivers come and go from Kingsbury all over the UK – whevever Shell want them to go. It is a big site and a very important terminal for us.”
Last-minute talks were held to avert the strike which could see 500 Unite members walk out. The talks, held at a secret location, were overseen by conciliation service ACAS.
The Government has urged drivers not to panic buy fuel amid fears of petrol shortages. A Downing Street spokesman said: “We want the public to continue to buy as normal so as to avoid creating problems that might otherwise not exist.”
Contingency plans include allowing suppliers to share information about stocks without falling foul of competition laws.
Fuel supplies to the emergency services would also be maintained in the event of shortages.
The pay row has erupted because members of Unite claim they are paid the same now as they were in 1992 – just under £32,000 a year – despite their working week being 11 hours longer.
Bernie Holloway, spokesman for Hoyer, said it was “disappointing” that Unite had rejected an improved pay offer last week.
“We believe this was a very good offer that would take the average drivers’ pay up to around £39,000,” he said. The company said its improved offer, made during a meeting last week, was worth 6.8 per cent. Unite repeated its call for Shell to get involved in the dispute and stop “sitting on its hands”.
Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey said: “It is no use Shell bosses, who have themselves enjoyed 15 per cent-plus pay increases in the last year, sitting on their hands. They have 72 hours to start focusing on avoiding the disruption this will cause to the public, who are already mindful of the staggering profits Shell rakes in.
“Shell tanker drivers are earning exactly the same today as they were 15 years ago while working for a company that makes £1.3 billion every month, profits our members’ hard work helps deliver. So Unite is saying to Shell bosses, stop hiding behind your sub-contractor and help us sort out a solution.”
However, the petrol giant is refusing to get involved, and last night reiterated calls for the two sides to resolve the dispute.
A spokesman for Shell said it was “inevitable” that some petrol stations would run out of fuel if the industrial action went ahead.
The Petrol Retailers Association said it had not received any reports of panic buying from members.