Portugal's fuel-tanker truckers call off damaging strike

LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese fuel-tanker drivers have ended a national strike after agreeing to return to negotiations over demands for better pay and conditions, the government said on Thursday, ending the country’s worst outbreak of industrial unrest in years.

FILE PHOTO: A placard reading "Diesel sold out" is seen at a gas station in Porto, Portugal April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The government made the announcement after a three-day stoppage that prompted it to declare an energy crisis, took airports’ fuel reserves to emergency levels, disrupted flights and forced motorists to queue for hours outside petrol stations.

“Drivers made their voices heard and they managed to start a negotiation process with the employers’ association that will guarantee that their work is valued,” Infrastructure Minister Pedro Nuno Santos told a news conference.

The strike ends as Portugal heads into Easter holidays, a busy time for its important tourism industry. It could ease political pressure on the Socialist government, dogged by industrial unrest, as it nears national elections in October.

Santos said the agreement to return to negotiations had been reached in talks between the government, the employers’ association and the union representing striking drivers.

With the government acting as mediator, both parties will return to the negotiating table on April 29 and are committed to reach a final agreement by the end of the year.

About 2,000 petrol stations ran low on fuel supplies on Wednesday, according to emergency services platform VOST Portugal. At least one factory halted production and some bus routes around Lisbon were suspended.

“It will take some time until normality is restored in its entirety,” Santos said.

National Union of Dangerous Goods Drivers president Pedro Henriques said people now appreciated the importance of fuel-tanker drivers, thanks to the strike.

“From now on everyone will know what a driver of dangerous goods does, working up to 18 hours a day so there is nothing missing in the house of the Portuguese,” he told reporters.

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

Costa’s Socialists, backed in parliament by the Left Bloc and the Communists, are expected to win the next election but may struggle to win enough seats to form a majority.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Angus MacSwan