Striking fuel-tanker drivers put Portugal at risk of energy crisis

A fuel truck supplies a fuel station in Lisbon, Portugal, 18 April 2019. [Tiago Petinga/EPA/EFE]

Fuel-tanker drivers in Portugal threatened a new strike within a week if a deal is not reached over their demands for better pay and conditions, their union said on Monday (29 April).

A previous stoppage from 15-18 April prompted the government to declare an energy crisis, reduced airports’ fuel reserves to emergency levels, disrupted flights and forced motorists to queue for hours outside petrol stations.

The walkout, which became Portugal’s worst outbreak of industrial unrest in years, ended after the government, the employers’ association and the union representing striking drivers agreed to return to negotiations.

With the government acting as mediator, both parties returned to the negotiating table on Monday but union’legal adviser Pedro Henriques said no agreement had been reached.

“We are not asking for anything other than what we already asked for,” Henriques told reporters after the meeting. “I regret this deadline has passed and that a conclusion wasn’t reached.”

He said the union would give the employers’ group one extra week to act to meet the drivers’ demands before making a decision on next steps but said a new strike was “very likely”.

During the April 15-18 strike, about 2,000 petrol stations ran low on fuel supplies, at least one factory halted production and some bus routes around the capital Lisbon were suspended.

The walkout followed a wave of disputes in a nation that had been praised by European Union institutions as an economic model, implementing painful austerity measures after the global financial crisis a decade ago to underpin an economic recovery.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s minority Socialist government, propped up in parliament by the Left Bloc and the Communists, faces a general election in October this year. Although expected to win, the Socialists may struggle to secure enough seats to form a majority.

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