Police were escorting fuel trucks

Lisbon (AFP) - Portuguese police escorted fuel trucks on Monday to supply petrol stations on the first day of a tanker drivers’ strike threatening supplies at the height of the summer holidays.

As petrol stations were starting to run dry, the government declared an energy crisis.

A convoy left a major fuel depot in Aveiras, a Lisbon suburb, crossing a picket line of about 30 striking drivers without trouble, an AFP reporter said.

Driver unions said the transport companies had “bought off” some drivers even though the government has laid down rules requiring minimum deliveries for emergency services and other priority customers.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa – who had warned that the government would not hesitate to require striking drivers to work if the situation demanded – said on Monday that “the minimum service is being respected and for now everything is going with civic-mindedness and calm”.

The trucks passed picket lines without trouble

In the run-up to the strike last week, motorists had been filling up 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 has declared an “energy crisis” which allows it to ration fuel – 25 litres (6.6 US gallons) for car owners and 100 litres for trucks.

It has also decreed that tanker drivers will have to deliver a minimum of 50 percent 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.

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

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