August 15, 2016 / 6:16 PM / in 2 years

Unions at Petrobras fuel unit BR Distribuidora start 5-day strike

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Workers at BR Distribuidora, the fuel unit of Brazil’s state-owned oil company began a planned five-day strike on Monday to protest the planned sale of control of the distributor, the president of a union representing striking workers said.

Employees of BR, formally known as Petrobras Distribuidora SA, are attempting to block fuel distribution centers and administrative buildings in eight Brazilian states, and are expecting the strike to spread, said Ligia Arneiro, president of the Union of Mineral and Fuel Commercialization Workers (Sitramico-RJ).

BR said it has “adopted measures necessary to guarantee the supply of fuel securely to its service stations and other clients.”

The workers are protesting Petrobras’s decision to sell up to 51 percent of the company’s voting stock.

The planned sale is part of efforts to cut the company’s nearly $125 billion in debt, the largest in the oil industry, by selling about $15 billion of assets by the end of the year.

Brazilian union strikes against Petrobras, Brazil’s only major refinery, rarely have any serious impact on the company’s output or ability, and legal requirement under Brazilian law, to supply wholesale fuel to the whole country.

The biggest strike in 20 years against Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, happened in November. Offshore platform workers managed to cut output by nearly 275,000 barrels a day, or about 13 percent of Petrobras pre-strike output, but were not able to keep it up for many days.

That strike was also about asset sales. Most Petrobras unions have long called for the total renationalization of the country’s oil business and the banning of foreign capital in the local oil business. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Writing by Jeb Blount; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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