Portugal's striking fuel-tanker drivers ready to talk to employers

A placard reading "Maximum limit 15 litres per filling" is seen as a man fills up a car during a fuel strike, at a gas station in Lisbon, Portugal, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s striking fuel-tanker drivers said on Wednesday they were ready to sit down with employers, in what appeared to be the first conciliatory gesture in an industrial stoppage that has led to petrol rationing in the busy tourist season.

Drivers began an indefinite strike on Monday, the second of the year after similar damaging industrial action in April, demanding better salaries and working conditions.

About a third of filling stations remained either completely out of fuel or were partially dry on Wednesday, the same as a day earlier. The government ordered drivers back to work late on Monday after supplies ran down at some locations, including Lisbon airport.

Pedro Pardal Henriques, vice president of the National Hazardous Materials Drivers’ Union that called the strike, told journalists he was ready to sit down with employer association ANTRAM on Thursday, a national holiday.

“I’ll be there tomorrow to talk to (ANTRAM’s) Dr. Andre Almeida so we can sit down at the table and find a proposal that pleases both parties to get this done,” said Pardal Henriques. “If we cannot find a solution to the problem, the tendency is for it to get worse and for chaos to increase chaos.”

ANTRAM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The latest strike went ahead after last-ditch talks failed on Saturday.

The government triggered a legal mechanism to order drivers back to work on Monday. The special measure means drivers could ultimately face imprisonment or a hefty fine if they do not follow the order, which is intended to secure minimum supplies.

Motorists have been limited to buying up to 15 liters 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.

Reporting by Catarina Demony, editing by Axel Bugge and Gareth Jones