Brazil oil workers' unions call to suspend strike

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazil's oil workers federation called Thursday for the suspension of a 72-hour strike aimed at forcing change at state-controlled giant Petrobras, but declared illegal by the country's top labor court.

Given the court ruling, the Unified Oil Workers' Federation (FUP) "recommends that unions suspend the strike," it said in a statement.

The strike, which started Wednesday, came on the heels of a devastating truckers' strike, which brought Latin America's biggest economy to a standstill for more than a week in protest at high fuel prices.

The oil workers want Petrobras CEO Pedro Parente to be removed.

They also want an end to the company's market-based pricing policy, put in place in 2016 by center-right President Michel Temer as part of attempts to open up Brazil's sluggish economy.

The FUP called the court's ruling "a serious violation of trade union rights" and said the suspension was just "a temporary retreat."

Unions say the three-day stoppage had been planned as a "warning" ahead of a possible indefinite strike penciled in to start mid-June.

Disruption to Brazil's oil industry was minimal Wednesday as refineries had their reserves full -- in part because of the truckers' strike which saw movement of fuel grind to a halt nationwide.

Truckers finally wound down their protest this week after Temer caved in to demands for lower diesel prices.

However, that measure is temporary and the government remains under pressure from unions to cancel Petrobras' pricing autonomy -- something that would alarm investors.

After Temer initially suggested that he might reconsider Petrobras' autonomy, his government issued a clear statement Wednesday that said "we will maintain the pricing policy."

Superior Labor Court Justice Maria de Assis Calsing ruled that the oil workers' strike was illegal because of its "abusive" nature and the danger it posed "to the Brazilian population."

The court imposed daily fines of two million reais ($537,000) on unions violating the order.