LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s fuel-tanker drivers voted on Saturday to strike from Monday for an indefinite period, raising fears about the impact on the country’s tourism-dependent economy during the busy summer season.
“Our members spoke,” Francisco Sao Bento, president of the National Hazardous Materials Drivers’ Union (SNMMP), told reporters after the strike vote by members of the two unions representing freight drivers.
The vote means the strike will go ahead as planned after the failure of negotiations with the employers’ association ANTRAM, as drivers demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Striking SNMMP drivers will be joined by the Independent Freight Drivers’ Union (SIMM). “The strike will go ahead for an indefinite time,” SIMM President Jorge Cordeiro told reporters after the joint union meeting.
ANTRAM spokesman Andre Matias Almeida said the strike decision was a “great victory for the union leaders” but a “resounding defeat for the workers”.
The Socialist government led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa has already started preparations for the strike, declaring an energy crisis which has been in place since 11:59 p.m. on Friday and scheduled to last until Aug. 21.
The crisis declaration allows the government to ensure full supplies to ports, hospitals, airports and other priority users.
The government will ration fuel for the public, restricting drivers to a maximum of 15 litres of petrol or diesel at specially designated stations.
“A responsible government must prepare for the worst,” Costa said on Saturday after a cabinet meeting to discuss the impact of the strike. Costa arrived at the meeting in an electric car.
A similar strike by fuel-tanker drivers in April caused low supplies at more than 2,000 petrol stations and prompted panic buying by drivers.
Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Holmes