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Portuguese govt orders striking tanker drivers back to work

Portugal’s socialist government on Monday ordered tanker drivers to return to work on the first day of an open-ended strike, which was threatening petrol supplies at the height of the summer holidays.

“There was no other solution,” government spokesman Tiago Antunes said Monday evening after an emergency ministerial meeting.

The announcement came after the government declared an energy crisis as petrol stations were starting to run dry despite a police operation to escort fuel trucks with extra supplies.

In addition some 500 security forces were mobilised to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa had warned earlier that his administration would not hesitate to require the strikers to work if minimum requirements for emergency services and other priority customers were not respected.

After a fairly smooth start to the strike on Monday morning, the situation gradually worsened through the day, according to the government.

The order will affect major airports like Lisbon’s and the key tourism region of the Algarve in Portugal’s south, Antunes said.

Trucker unions have denounced the government’s move as a “serious attack” on their right to strike, and insisted that minimum deliveries had been respected.

Conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on the strikers and their employers to find “fair solutions without disproportionately penalising the Portuguese people”.

Motorists made a run on petrol stations ahead of the strike last week, and by early Monday some 15 percent of the country’s 3,000 service stations were completely out of fuel and another 15 percent were short of at least one grade.

Costa’s government declared an “energy crisis” which allowed it to ration fuel — 25 litres (6.6 US gallons) for cars and 100 litres for trucks.

It also decreed that tanker drivers would have to deliver at least half of their normal shipments.

Tanker drivers staged a four-day strike in April, calling it off when they won a wage increase.

They now want employers to give them new increases in 2021 and 2022.