South Africa could grind to a halt due to petrol shortages as the effect of the strike by petroleum workers begins to bite.
There was no agreement in sight by yesterday afternoon. Some filling stations did not have petrol in the morning and reports indicated that more and more pumps were running dry during the day.
Union officials have warned that the future could be bleak unless companies come up with a satisfactory offer.
The strike by the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood, and Allied Workers' Union (Ceppwawu) over wage demands started on Monday .
The union is demanding a 9,5percent increase while the employers are offering 8percent immediately and 0,5percent in January.
The industrial action includes truck drivers who deliver petrol to filling stations.
Yesterday morning the Automobile Association warned of petrol shortages.
So did BP, which said it had begun using contractors to deliver petrol to filling stations.
"Fuel stocks are likely to improve at Gauteng BP service stations now that the oil company has begun using contractors to deliver products to customers," said spokesman Zipporah Mothoa.
But Ceppwawu's Keith Jacobs warned against such a move, saying the use of unlicenced contractors to operate trucks ferrying petrol was unlawful.
"That is just a scare tactic they are using," he said.
"They are trying to put up a face to deceive the public. They know they can't just get agencies to supply petrol. If that is the case, we will alert the Department of Labour."
Jacobs called on sub-contractors not to weaken the strike action.
Sowetan was told that BP had to be assured by union leaders that contractors would not be intimidated.
Most filling stations in Johannesburg and Soweto were fast running dry yesterday afternoon.
In Dobsonville along the busy Roodepoort Road, an Engen and BP filling station had run dry by 5am.
Engen manager Mandisa Kotelane said they normally ordered petrol twice a week.
"When we called on Tuesday to order for Wednesday, we were told drivers were on strike and we wouldn't receive any supplies," Kotelane said.
Petrol attendants busied themselves with cleaning the station and checking tyre pressure.
Along the busy Potchefstroom Road, one of the busiest filling stations, a Shell garage, ran out of leaded petrol at about 5am.
Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald said the strike had affected the supply of petrol and diesel.
"The outlook for re-supply from fuel depots is uncertain," he said.
"The AA recommends that motorists ensure their fuel tanks are kept above a quarter full," said Ronald.
Jacobs said there was no indication yesterday that employers were willing to sit around the table.
"We are talking about an industry that is making huge profits, but they do not want to share it with employees," he said.