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Brazil's Petrobras to hire emergency workers as strike hits day 10

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Rio de Janeiro — Brazilian state-led oil company Petrobras was cleared by a local labor court judge to hire emergency workers to maintain operations while unionized oil workers remained on the picket line for a 10th consecutive day, the company and unions said Monday.

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"Petrobras is in the process of immediately hiring people and services under an emergency to guarantee the operational continuity of its units during the strike," the company said in a statement. The emergency contracts started Friday, Petrobras said.

The latest turn in the ongoing labor dispute came despite a court order last week that forced unions to maintain at least 90% of unionized workers on the job or risk facing a fine of more than $100,000/day. According to the injunction, the judge dismissed claims by oil workers that Petrobras had failed to adhere to the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement signed in November. All of the unions agreed to the deal, the judge ruled, and not enough time had passed for Petrobras to not live up to terms of the agreement.

The Oil Workers Federation, or FUP, said in a separate statement that necessary work crews remained on the job, but that Petrobras officials denied the union entrance to operational units to make a head count. Union officials said that Petrobras was using the strike movement as a way to hire strike breakers.

"Management's contradictions are evidence of the political treatment given to the oil workers strike in order to criminalize the movement," FUP said in a statement Monday. "That puts at risk the safety of workers and installations in announcing the hiring of scabs."

The emergency workers, however, will be technically qualified to carry out the required work, Petrobras said.

Oil workers across Brazil started a series of work actions commonly referred to as a "warning strike" on Saturday, February 1. Workers failed to show up for shift changes or carried out work-to-rule actions, but the walkout was not aimed at affecting production at offshore platforms and refineries, according to the union.

The union wants Petrobras to halt the planned layoff of more than 1,000 workers at a fertilizer plant in Parana state. Petrobras is exiting the fertilizer business and has tried for years to sell or lease the existing facilities without success. The layoffs will go into effect Friday, union officials said.

A total of 40 production platforms, 11 refineries and 18 oil and refined-product terminals were adhering to the strike as of Monday morning, FUP said.

The strike has not affected output or domestic refined-product supplies, Petrobras said. Many of the biggest floating production, storage and offloading vessels, or FPSOs, handling output from the subsalt region are leased or operated by third-party companies such as SBM Offshore and Japan's Modec, so similar recent walkouts have had little impact on production.

"Units are operating under adequate conditions, with reinforcement from contingency teams when necessary," Petrobras said. "There are no impacts on production at this time."