The Portuguese government imposed fuel rationing at petrol stations as fuel-tanker drivers started an indefinite strike on Monday and it promised to prevent the labour action from paralysing the country at the height of the tourist season. A similar strike in April was Portugal's worst outbreak of industrial unrest in years, provoking criticism of the Socialist government, but this time better contingency planning could even benefit the administration in an upcoming parliamentary election on Oct. 6, analysts say.
The government declared an energy crisis on Friday ahead of the strike, allowing it to ensure full supplies to ports, hospitals, airports and other priority consumers and decreed minimum services for the country's network of filling stations. Some 30 percent of the country's filling stations were out of fuel, but there were few lines at those working.
"I'd like to point out as a positive that minimum services are being provided...The situation is that of normality and civility," Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters. There has been no need to resort to a back-up plan to use army and police drivers, he said, although the government stands ready to launch these and other special measures if supplies are compromised.
Tanker drivers decided to stop work for the second time this year after talks with their private-sector employers over better pay and workers' rights failed. The fuel rationing for the public restricts drivers to a maximum of 15 litres of petrol or diesel per filling at specially designated stations covered by the government-decreed minimum services scheme, and 25 litres at all other stations.
The National Hazardous Materials Drivers' Union (SNMMP), which called the strike, said they would comply with the minimum services, but there are concerns they may fail after some union leaders called to stop providing them. Costa called for government-brokered negotiations between the union and employers to resume as soon as possible.
The fuel-tanker drivers said the strike will carry on until the employers' association ANTRAM makes a "reasonable proposal". "Until then we will strike for a day, a week, a month, as long as it takes," said SNMMP vice president Pedro Pardal Henriques. The Independent Freight Drivers' Union (SIMM) will also take part in the strike.
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