Portuguese fuel strike into 2nd week! Army deployed as strike breakers. Striking fuel drivers threatened with jail

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Federation of Transport and Communications Trade Unions (FECTRANS) fighting against privatisation and cuts to the fuel industry

FUEL DRIVERS in Portugal are continuing their strike, now entering its second week, as the Portuguese government called a state of emergency, deploying the army to deliver fuel while petrol stations dry up.

The government have threatened fuel drivers with jail if they do not go back to work. However, the fuel drivers are determined to continue their struggle until they win.

The leader of Portugal’s National Union of Dangerous Materials Drivers (SNMMP), Francisco São Bento, has stressed that only holders of an ADR certificate are qualified to unload and deliver fuel at filling stations.

He was speaking a week ago, as fuel delivery drivers began a national drivers’ strike – which is still continuing.

Portugal’s Socialist Party government threatened to mobilise military and police personnel to combat fuel shortages by doing the strikers’ work, while union leaders and strikers are for their part warning that: ‘To be able to carry out these procedures, at least we, professionals in the sector, are required to have several types of training and other requirements, including having an ADR (i.e., of Hazardous Materials Certification).’

And according to São Bento, if there are confirmed cases of a filling station employee unloading the fuel without the ADR, this is committing ‘an illegality’, since there are procedures that have to be followed during the transfer of fuel.

Earlier, the SNMMP’s lawyer, Pardal Henriques, had said that putting soldiers in to replace those drivers represents a safety risk, since the soldiers had only had ‘one hour of training’ in how to load and unload dangerous goods – when drivers usually do three or six months of training, he said.

‘I would be genuinely afraid to know if I am supplying one product and there is another after all, or if there are contaminated products, and this is very likely to happen: it has happened to people who have 20 years’ experience.

‘Imagine (what it will be like) with a soldier who is simply following orders,’ the SNMMP lawyer reiterated.

The first National Drivers’ Congress took place in July in Santarém, and saw around 300 drivers unanimously approve the delivery of a notice to strike from 15 August, for an indefinite period , until the new Collective Labour Agreement (CCT) for the sector comes into force, which foresees a base salary increase of 100 euros over the next three years.

The new CCT agreement will be brought to the meeting on 15 July to continue negotiations with employers’ association ANTRAM, the federation affiliated to the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP), Federation of Transport and Communications Trade Unions (FECTRANS), but mediated by the Portuguese government’s Ministry of Labour.

During the same meeting, the two unions issued a strike notice, threatening to paralyse transportation around the country from 12 August, for an indefinite period, until the new CCT comes into force.

In an open letter to ANTRAM, some drivers have challenged the ‘attempted manipulation of public opinion’ in relation to the objective of the trade unions SIMA and SNMMP, stating that ‘the men who run these unions are themselves drivers of goods and dangerous goods.

‘We have been working for 22 years to serve the economy and the country with a high sense of responsibility and a true spirit. We know that the Portuguese will forgive us and understand that after 22 years it is time to think a little about ourselves and our families; after all, we too are men and women, parents, mothers, children,’ said the drivers’ unions.

The unions state too that they are tired of ‘diplomacy games’, and drivers have warned of ‘the precariousness of their working and social conditions’.

In this context, SIMA and SNMMP have challenged ANTRAM, as well as other ‘stakeholders’ in the sector, for ‘a televised debate on the whole situation’, according to the open letter.

‘Let’s talk about the ongoing negotiation process, the protocols and compromise agreements made, the various proposals already presented,’ said the unions of drivers, adding as a topic of debate ‘what has been happening in the sector over the last 22 years which has led the drivers to now take these positions’.

Preparing to wait for ANTRUM ‘quiet’ response to the challenge, the drivers pointed out ‘a certainty: whoever refuses the debate only has something to hide.’

The proposal for the new CCT provides for a base salary increase of 100 euros over the next three years (1,400 euros gross for 2020, 1,600 euros for 2021 and 1,800 euros for 2022), indexed to the increase in the minimum wage, improvement of working conditions and payment of overtime from eight working hours, among other measures.

Created at the end of 2018, SNMMP became known for their fuel drivers’ strike which began on 15 April, prompting the government to enact a civil requisition before inviting the parties to sit at the negotiating table.

The high adherence to the three-day strike surprised everyone, including the union itself, and left many of the country’s petrol stations out of fuel.

The strike will be on for an indefinite period by Portugal’s fuel-tanker drivers, giving way to fears about its effects on the country’s tourism-dependent economy during the busy summer season.

‘Our members spoke,’ Francisco São Bento, president of the National Hazardous Materials Drivers’ Union (SNMMP), said, after the strike vote by members of the two unions representing freight drivers.

Since the negotiations with the employers’ association ANTRAM failed, the vote means the strike will go ahead as planned, as drivers demand higher wages and better working conditions.

Striking SNMMP drivers will be joined by the Independent Freight Drivers’ Union (SIMA). ‘The strike will go ahead for an indefinite time,’ SIMA President Jorge Cordeiro told reporters after the joint union meeting.

The strike decision was a ‘great victory for the union leaders’ but a ‘resounding defeat for the workers’, countered Andre Matias Almeida, ANTRAM spokesman.

Led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa, the Socialist government started preparations for the strike well in advance, declaring an energy crisis which has been in place since Friday and scheduled to last until August 21. Full supplies to ports, hospitals, airports and other priority users have been ensured by the government, following the crisis declaration.

Restricting drivers to a maximum of 15 litres of fossil fuel or diesel at specially designated stations, the government will ration fuel for the public.