Soldiers could be used as scab labour against striking oil tanker drivers under plans being drawn up by the government
The army and police are on standby to ensure fuel deliveries this Easter as Unite ballots for action at seven major fuel distribution firms.
The union is consulting on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action over terms and conditions and warned strikes could bring serious disruption to petrol supplies at supermarkets, garages and airports across the country.
The 2,000 drivers account for 90 per cent of those supplying petrol to British forecourts.
The results of the ballot are expected today and a strike could begin as early as April 3.
Unite said there had been "unrelenting attacks" on drivers' terms and conditions, adding that it had been trying to establish a forum to agree industry-wide best practice on issues such as safety and training.
A spokesman for the union said: "While the oil industry rakes in multi-billion pound profits, the drivers who supply fuel to forecourts across the country are being squeezed.
"For over a year Unite has been trying to convince the industry to bring some stability back into the supply of this vital national commodity.
"Yet behind the scenes, the major employers have been slashing drivers' terms and conditions and cutting corners on training and safety in a bid to win contracts. Enough is enough."
At the weekend Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said the government had "learnt the lessons" of 2000 when a drivers' strike caused serious problems for Tony Blair and stood "ready to act" if Unite members walk out.
He urged the union and employers, including DHL and BP, to come to an agreement that avoids industrial action.
But he said contingency plans were in place that could see soldiers being called in to drive tankers and police preventing blockades.
Mr Maude said: "Widespread strike action affecting fuel supply at our supermarkets, garages and airports could cause disruption across the country.
"Although we are pushing for an agreement, we have learnt the lessons of the past and stand ready to act to minimise disruption to motorists, to industry and, in particular, to our emergency services, in the event of a strike."
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