Petrobras Oil Workers Planning Strike

Trade unions representing workers of Petrobras plan to hold a strike on Wednesday which will not affect output but could force management to start wage talks. Gerson Pires, the communications secretary of the FUP oil workers' umbrella union, said the warning strike would last 24 hours, during which workers of the night shift would not be substituted. "But they will remain at their workplaces and maintain output," he said, adding that seven unions within FUP had not yet approved the plan. "The idea is to make the management come up with a counter-proposal and start talks after Wednesday ... If that does not happen, then we might increase the form of pressure and an indefinite strike cannot be ruled out," he said.

It would be the first strike to affect Petrobras under the new center-left government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself a former union leader.

Pires said the company was generally more prone to dialogue under the new management and was more transparent when dealing with the unions. But he complained that it was still more interested in pleasing stockholders than its workers. "We expect the negotiations to be easier now than under the previous government, but the management policy is oriented more at shareholders. It is pretty much as it used to be," he said.

The unions want Petrobras to raise workers' salaries by 15.5 percent to account for inflation between September 2002 and August 2003, as well as by another 6.8 percent, which they say is the share of increased output for last year that workers should be entitled to.

Facing similar strike threats last year, Petrobras satisfied some of the workers' demands, including an inflation adjustment. But inflation has since sky-rocketed in Brazil.

In May 2002, Petrobras oil workers staged a one-day warning stoppage. The previous nationwide strike in October 2001 lasted five days and battered the economy.