PORTUGAL STRIKE

Portuguese civil servants strike to protest state budget

Austerity measures involve further wages cuts

Lisbon -
People waiting in a Lisbon hospital on Friday.
People waiting in a Lisbon hospital on Friday.Armando Franca (AP)

Portuguese civil servants went on strike on Friday to protest the center-right Social Democrat Party (PSD) government of Pedro Passos Coelho’s draft 2014 budget, which includes further pay cuts for public sector workers earning over 600 euros a month.

The stoppage, called by the Common Front of Public Administration Unions, which is linked to the Communist CGTP union, covered hospitals and health centers, schools and universities, law courts, government offices and garbage collection. The union put adherence to the strike early in the day at an average of over 70 percent. Public sector workers account for about 13 percent of the total active population.

Portugal has been rocked by a series of anti-government protests over the past month. There was also a strike by suburban and long-distance train employees on Thursday, which was partially adhered to. Lisbon subway workers have also be called to strike for the second time in less than 20 days on November 19.

As of the start of next year, public sector workers will see their monthly salaries reduced by between 2.5 and 12 percent depending on how much they earn. They are also being asked to work another hour per day bringing their working week to 40 hours. Civil servants’ pension entitlements are also to be reduced to bring them in line with those of the public sector. The budget also calls for spending cuts in a number of ministerial departments, including health and education.

The measures are aimed at bringing in 3.9 billion euros in the form of savings and higher revenues worth 3.9 billion euros in order to meet the deficit target for next year of 4.0 percent of GDP agreed with the IMF and the European Commission as part of the terms of a 78-billion-euro bailout.

Last Friday, thousands of people gathered outside the parliament building in the center of the Portuguese capital where the National Assembly approved the draft budget at its first hearing. Definitive approval of the spending and revenue plans for next year is expected to take place on November 26 when labor unions have also called for protests.

The PSD has described the draft budget as “tough but inevitable” while labor unions have lambasted it as a “guarantee of the impoverishment of workers.” The Portuguese Ombudsman, José de Faria Costa, has said he is considering appealing what he described as a “deeply austere” budget with the Constitutional Court, which has already thrown out a number of previous budget measures proposed by the Passos Coelho administration.

Friday’s strike comes a day after some relatively good news for the domestic economy. The jobless rate in the third quarter of this year fell 0.8 percentage points from the previous three months and was down 0.2 points from a year earlier at 15.6 percent. Unemployment in January of this year stood at 17.7 percent. The number of people out of work declined by 5.3 percent from the second quarter to 838,600.

Opposition parties and labor unions attributed the improvement to an increase in temporary hiring for the summer tourist season and a rise in emigration.

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