The union representing fuel tanker drivers has ruled out the threat of strikes over Easter and said it wanted to focus on peace talks.

Unite, which represents around 2,000 tanker drivers, said it retained the right to call industrial action if talks, expected to start next week, break down.

The move followed more panic buying at garages across the country today, and an incident in which a woman was badly burned when petrol ignited as she transferred it between containers in her kitchen.

Meanwhile, the Petrol Retailers Association said petrol sales increased by more than 170% yesterday, while sales of diesel were up by almost 80%.

Unite and the seven distribution companies involved in the dispute are in contact with the conciliation service Acas, but no substantive talks will be held until next week.

The union said it had been trying for more than a year to establish minimum standards in the fuel oil distribution industry and halt a "race to the bottom".

Officials called for minimum standards on health and safety procedures, training, pensions, rates of pay, hours and holidays, equal opportunities and disciplinary procedures.

Assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: "We will not be calling Easter strike action as we focus on substantive talks through Acas. We do still retain the right to call strike action for after the Easter, should those talks break down.

"It should be stressed that what we are seeking is reasonable and no more than what is in place elsewhere in the industry. There have been minimum standards governing the offshore oil industry since 2000 covering health and safety, training, and terms and conditions.

"This is not a political dispute. It is an industrial dispute and the Government's recent rhetoric will not help us achieve a negotiated settlement.

"They must set aside their political objectives and work with us, the employers, retailers and oil companies to achieve an outcome that is good for the industry and the country."

A woman in her 40s was decanting fuel from one container to another at her home in York when it ignited and set fire to her clothing.

She was using a jug to transfer petrol from one container to another, but it ignited as she was using the cooker.

The incident followed warnings from the Fire Brigades Union and a number of fire services of the danger of storing fuel in the wake of advice from Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to fill up jerry cans to keep in garages in preparation for a strike.

The Department for Transport announced a temporary relaxation of the enforcement of EU hours and working-time rules for drivers of fuel tankers, running from today until April 5.

The daily driving limit of nine hours will be increased to 11, while daily rest requirements will be cut from 11 to nine hours.

The weekly driving limit of 56 hours and fortnightly limit of 90 hours will both be lifted.

The enforcement of working-time rules has also been relaxed for this period to allow drivers to work up to 66 hours instead of the usual 60-hour weekly maximum.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls accused Prime Minister David Cameron of playing "schoolboy political games" in stoking up panic over fuel to try to distract attention from his troubles with Budget tax rises and the scandal over donations to the Tories.

Mr Balls told BBC Radio Leeds: "I do think that political games were played.

"I think the Prime Minister woke up on Monday morning and thought 'I've got the worst weekend I've had in Government', because of the Tory donation scandal after a Budget which had been judged by the country to be deeply unfair, and he thought 'Why don't I try to divert attention?'

"So suddenly, out of the blue, we had Government ministers talking up a strike which wasn't even called - there's no date for this strike.

"When he should have been responsible, he decided to wind this up, he sent out his Cabinet minister to say 'Fill up your jerrycans' and we've ended up with these queues, even though there's normal petrol deliveries, there's no strike, there has to be seven days' notice even if there was a strike.

"It was a political invention, the panic of the last couple of days, and the nation and some people are paying a very, very heavy price for that.

"I think it's backfired because I think people have generally seen that these are schoolboy political games being played by people who should be doing responsible jobs."