Portugal fuel-tanker drivers say they will suspend strike, negotiate

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s fuel-tanker drivers will suspend a five-day-old strike that led to fuel rationing at the height of the tourist season and negotiate with employers in government-brokered talks, their union said on Friday.

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The employer association ANTRAM had earlier rejected the union’s offer to negotiate better salaries and working conditions unless the strike was suspended or called off.

“The union understands that the conditions are now in place for all parties to sit down at the negotiating table,” the SNMMP union said in a statement. The strike would be suspended from the start of the talks, to be called by the government, until the union’s plenary meeting on Sunday, it said.

Government officials and ANTRAM had no immediate comment.

Drivers began an indefinite strike on Monday, the second of the year after similar damaging industrial action in April.

Around a quarter of filling stations remained either completely out of fuel or were partially dry on Friday afternoon, according to a website monitoring the strike.

Motorists have been limited to buying up to 15 litres (3.9 gallons) of petrol at a network of special filling stations around the country, but there has so far been no widespread mass queuing at stations as there was in April.

To avoid chaos and ensure minimum supplies of fuel, the government had triggered a legal mechanism to order drivers to go back to work on Monday, or risk penalties. However, drivers were not working extra time.

No major problems were reported at the country’s airports. Airport authority ANA said on Friday that restrictions on supplies to aircraft in place since Monday were lifted at Lisbon airport.

The strike in April provoked criticism of Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s Socialist government, but better contingency planning this time could even give a boost to the administration in the October parliamentary election, analysts said.

One of the contingency plans included declaring an energy crisis ahead of the strike, in an attempt to provide full supplies to ports, hospitals, airports and other priority locations.

Although the Socialists are expected to win they may fall short of a majority in parliament. They now rule in minority, backed in parliament by the two far-left parties.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Axel Bugge and Frances Kerry