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Portugal hit by public sector strike against austerity

A split in Portugal's trade union movement saw a lower turnout take part in Thursday's action than at previous stoppages, but the strike still caused severe disruption to transport, education and health services.

Portugal public sector strike 2012 03 22Enlarge
Demonstrators march in downtown Lisbon following a 24-hour general strike across Portugal on March 22, 2012. (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

A 24-hour general strike by public sector workers in Portugal in protest against government austerity measures caused extensive disruption on Thursday, but a split in the trade union movement resulted in a lower turnout than a similar stoppage in November.

The subway in the capital city of Lisbon stayed closed, while commuters faced delays on trains and buses. Schools shut as teachers went on strike, and hospitals and some government departments were forced to work with reduced staffing, the Associated Press reported.

Thousands of protesters marched from the center of Lisbon to a parliament building, chanting “Enough sacrifices!”

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Portugal’s biggest union, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP), called the strike to fight changes to labor laws making it easier to hire and fire workers and cut holidays and layoff compensation. The union also opposes the elimination of public employees’ Christmas and vacation bonuses, according to the Agence France Presse.

Lisbon is introducing austerity measures as part of a three-year debt reduction plan, which it must implement in order to receive €78 billion ($102 billion) worth of rescue funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other euro zone countries.

The government has privatized several industries and increased taxes on sales, income and property while curtailing welfare benefits, the BBC reports.

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Unlike previous strikes in November 2011 and November 2010, Thursday’s stoppage did not have the backing of Portugal’s second-largest union, the more moderate General Workers Union (UGT), which signed up to a labor pact with the government and employers’ organizations in January, according to The Financial Times.

Portugal’s unemployment rate reached 14 percent in December, and is forecast to keep climbing into next year. Its youth jobless rate is more than 28 percent.

Many analysts believe Portugal will have to ask for extra emergency funding, or even restructure its debts in the same way that Greece did. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120322/portugal-hit-public-sector-strike-against-austerity-measures