Union workers and Argentine oil refiners resumed wage talks on Friday to try to avert a strike that could cause fuel shortages during the country's soy and corn harvests.
The Labor Ministry is mediating the talks. Unions could call a strike if a deal is not reached by a 5 p.m. (2000 GMT) deadline, unless government negotiators force both sides to take more time.
"We hope there's a possibility of negotiating. If there isn't, unfortunately we'll launch a strike," Alberto Roberti, secretary general of the Federation of Oil, Gas and Biofuels Workers, told Reuters.
"We're talking, but we're still pretty far (from a deal)," he said, adding that a walkout would be launched later on Friday if no agreement was reached.
The refinery workers have threatened to launch an indefinite strike if they do not get a 32 percent pay rise. The Oil Industry Chamber, which groups the South American country's leading energy firms, initially offered an 18 percent raise.
Industry sources said on Thursday they were taking measures to distribute fuel ahead of the weekend to avert shortages in case a strike begins. Most of Argentina's key soy crop is trucked to ports and farm machinery uses diesel.
At risk is Argentina's 627,000 barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity. Although the union does not represent YPF, which operates half of that capacity, one leader said, its members also would target their facilities in any strike.
Strike threats are common at this time of year as trade unions negotiate salary increases, with high inflation stoking recent demands for hikes of around 25 percent on average.
The center-left administration of President Cristina Fernandez has close ties with the country's powerful trade unions and government mediation often helps resolve labor disputes.
The biggest refinery operators in Argentina are YPF, which is the local unit of Spain's Repsol YPF, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras and Exxon Mobil Corp (under the brand name Esso).
Capacity tops 600,000 barrels per day at the country's largest refineries.
ReutersLast Mod: 01 Mayıs 2010, 12:49