Brazil unlikely to see major truckers strike, union official says

SAO PAULO, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Brazilian truckers remain split over the merits of a nationwide strike on Feb. 1 due to rising diesel prices, a senior truck union leader told Reuters on Friday, predicting there would not be a major stoppage.

A nationwide walkout would be a hammer blow to Brazil’s economy, already weakened by the conronavirus outbreak. A rebound in global oil prices, coupled with Brazil’s weak currency, have lifted local diesel prices, while broader inflation also picks up in Latin America’s biggest nation.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose poll numbers have slid due to his handling of the health crisis, has appealed to truckers not to strike, and said the government is seeking ways to lower fuel costs. Many in Brazil recoil at the memory of a 2018 truckers strike that paralyzed the economy.

Marlon Maues, executive adviser to the National Confederation of Autonomous Transporters (CNTA), told Reuters that some groups favor striking, while others want to continue talks with the government to find a solution.

“We do not believe there will be a national strike,” he said. However, he added that “there may be some at specific points in some cities.”

He said there is “widespread dissatisfaction” among truckers, but they are in talks with the government.

Statements this week by Roberto Castello Branco, chief executive of Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras, that the truckers strike was not the company’s problem, “were totally inappropriate,” said Maues.

“It was a total lack of sensitivity. That was very inappropriate. It is his problem, not only as president of a company like Petrobras, but as a citizen of Brazil,” Maues added.

He said that there were likely 1 million truck drivers in Brazil, for whom diesel represents about 50% of their operating costs. (Reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr.; Writing by Gabiel Stargardter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)