Portugal’s fuel-tanker drivers agreed on Saturday to start an indefinite nationwide strike starting Monday, during the busiest tourist season.
Portugal’s government ordered striking fuel-tanker workers back to work in some parts of the country Monday after fuel supplies ran low amid a self-declared “energy crisis” for the second time since April.
“The government had no alternative but to recognize the need to resort to a civil requisition,” cabinet secretary of state Tiago Antunes told reporters, adding that minimum services had not been met, a statement union bosses refuted.
The order means drivers who refuse can face criminal charges, including up to two years in jail. The government had earlier called in police drivers to try to keep the fuel flowing.
“I see this as an attack on the strike because these people (the drivers) delivered minimum services,” Pedro Pardal Henriques, vice president of National Hazardous Materials Drivers’ Union (SNMMP) said.
Portugal’s fuel-tanker drivers agreed on Saturday to start an indefinite nationwide strike starting Monday, during the busiest tourist season. By Monday afternoon, 35 percent of the country’s filling stations were either completely out of fuel or were partially dry.
The SNMMP was joined by the Independent Freight Drivers’ Union (SIMM) to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Union representatives are asking for the base monthly salary to increase from €630 (US$706) to €900 (US$1009) by 2022. Yet employers say that with subsidies, supplements and allowances drivers already get enough money at the moment.
Meanwhile, “the strike will go-ahead for an indefinite time,” SIMM President Jorge Cordeiro told reporters after the joint union meeting.
As a result, the government declared an energy crisis on Friday ahead of the strike until Aug 21, to brace for possible impacts and secure full supply to ports, hospitals, airports, and other priority locations.
At the same time decreed fuel rationing for the public to a maximum of 25 liters of petrol or diesel per filling at specially designated stations.
A similar strike by fuel-tanker drivers in April caused low supplies at more than 2,000 fuel stations and prompted panic buying by drivers. Since then repeated attempts to reach an agreement through talks have failed.
Portugal’s economic situation is the result of the International Monetary Fund’s recession-induced measures and austerity policies.
In 2011, the Iberian nation was on the verge of an economic collapse, so it went to the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank to ask for approximately US$91 billion. A package of austerity measures was conditioned and immediately applied between 2011 and 2014.
However, the medicine ended up being even worse than the ailment, and by 2014 the GDP growth was negative and unemployment reached 15 percent.
Social discontent resulted in a parliamentary triumph of a majority confirmed by a left-wing coalition, led by socialist Antonio Costa. In 2015, they began to reverse the toughest measures: increased public sector salaries and brought back certain rights won by workers such as minimum wage and pensions; but many policies remained.
Yet under Costa, the country still has one of the lowest minimum wage in the European Union (518 euros) and continues to face major protests as a result of ongoing lender-induced austerity measures that the prime minister has not eliminated.