Portuguese petrol stations run dry ahead of strike

Almost 15% of the country's 3,000-plus stations were partially or fully sold out, data shows

"Empty" signs hung on pumps in Lisbon and elsewhere across Portugal a few hours before a strike by fuel-tanker drivers kicks off at the height of the summer holidays. According to an internet site that compiles reports from drivers, https://janaodaparaabastecer.vost.pt, almost 15% of the country's 3,000-plus stations were partially or fully sold out before the beginning of the strike at midnight.

"There was enormous anticipation by car owners", Prime Minister Antonio Costa said, noting that sales had almost doubled in recent days.

The open-ended strike appeared certain after an ultimate meeting of unions on Saturday failed to satisfy truck drivers' demands for a pay raise, AFP says. They staged a four-day strike in April, shortly before Easter weekend, that also caused significant fuel shortages. The truck drivers, led by a union founded in November 2018, suspended that movement after receiving the wage increase they demanded of at least 1,400 euros ($1,580).

But they are now asking employers to give them new increases in 2021 and 2022 and are threatening to strike for an indefinite period in case their demands aren't met, raising fears about the impact on the country’s tourism-dependent economy during the busy summer season.

The government has thus declared an "energy crisis" which allows it to ration fuel -- to 25l for car owners and 100l for trucks. It has also decreed that tanker drivers will have to deliver a minimum of 50% of their normal shipments. Airports are another priority for fuel deliveries, and around 500 soldiers and paramilitary police could be called upon to drive tanker trucks if the minimum level of deliveries is not adhered to.

Costa did not rule out requisitioning drivers if the situation called for it, while warning that even if the minimum level of service was provided "the strike is going to affect consumers deeply."

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