Portugal rationing petrol as lorry drivers strike

About 30% of filling stations run out of fuel during industrial action over pay

Spokesman for the national drivers’ union Pardal Henriques  addresses elements of the strike picket, outside the headquarters of the Logistics Fuel Company in Aveiras de Cima, Portugal. Photograph: Carlos Barroso/EPA

Spokesman for the national drivers’ union Pardal Henriques addresses elements of the strike picket, outside the headquarters of the Logistics Fuel Company in Aveiras de Cima, Portugal. Photograph: Carlos Barroso/EPA

 

Portugal has started rationing petrol as a precaution after 2,000 lorry drivers began an open-ended strike over pay, a move that comes at the height of the crucial summer tourist season and during the summer harvest.

The government set a limit at gas stations of 25 litres for light vehicles and 100 litres for lorries until further notice as most tanker drivers walked off the job.

Some hauliers in other sectors of the economy also joined the walkout.

Anticipating petrol and fresh food shortages, the centre-left Socialist government, which faces a general election in October, is forcing hauliers to provide a minimum volume of supplies.

Some 30 per cent of the country’s filling stations were out of fuel on Monday.

Authorities hope to minimise disruptions by demanding that drivers maintain petrol supplies to emergency services and airports, provide 75 per cent of normal petrol deliveries for public transport systems and 50 per cent to petrol stations.

All perishable goods and at least half of the normal food supplies must also be delivered to stores.

Some tankers delivering petrol on Monday had a police escort, and police said they were on standby for the possibility of roadblocks erected by strikers.

Few queues were reported yet at petrol stations after many people filled their tanks over the weekend.

The government warned that if hauliers do not comply with the required level of minimum services, it will enact a rarely-used law to force them back to work.

At the same time, the government was preparing to use qualified members of the security forces to deliver petrol, if necessary.

Annual rises

The walkout was called by the National Hazardous Materials Drivers’ Union, representing about 750 of the country’s 900 tanker drivers, and the Independent Goods Vehicles Drivers’ Union.

The hauliers are demanding staggered annual rises over the next three years in their basic pay and benefits.

They want their basic pay to increase from €630 a month to €900 by 2022.

Employers say they cannot afford the demands by the unionised drivers.

Portugal’s prime minister Antonio Costa, who visited emergency services on Monday to check their readiness for the strike, appealed to both sides to return to negotiations.

Farmers in Portugal fear they will not be able to get fresh summer produce, such as lettuce and tomatoes, to shops before they go rotten.

Dairy farmers have warned they could lose millions of litres of milk a day due to the strike.

Portugal’s southern Algarve region, a popular European vacation destination, hosts one million tourists in August and tour operators are concerned that some of those holidays could be disrupted. – AP/Reuters