UNITE today ruled out the threat of strikes by fuel tanker drivers over Easter and said it wanted to focus on peace talks.
The union, which represents around 2,000 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 per cent.
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.”
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 Petrol Retailers Association said it was waiting for “practical and well-considered” leadership from the Government during the growing fuel crisis.
“The Government has ordered the Army to train drivers to maintain fuel deliveries and, whilst this is potentially welcome, it has been proposed without any prior consultation with industry. Just 300 Army drivers cannot possibly replace 2,000 striking civilian drivers,” said a statement.
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.