Portuguese workers join EU fight

March 6, 2010

The article below is abridged from the British Morning Star.

Portuguese public-sector workers launched a 24-hour strike on March 4 in the latest protest to hit a social democratic government imposing European Union-mandated austerity plans.

Trade unions representing more than 500,000 civil servants joined forces for the first time in four years in a common front against a planned pay freeze, indirect tax increases and cuts in bonuses and pension benefits.

The walkout shut schools, hospitals and public offices. Court hearings and waste collection were also affected, although most public transport ran as normal.

Portugal's unions said their members had suffered worsening conditions for years as public pensions and other benefits were cut by the minority Socialist Party government. This year, public-sector wages were frozen to appease international speculators concerned at the government's budget deficit.

The EU has ordered Portugal to cut its deficit from 9.3% of GDP to 3% by 2013.

The government included the planned austerity measures in its 2010 state budget, which parliament is expected to approve next week. The budget was delayed by a general election at the end of last year.

Unions complained that workers bear the brunt of belt-tightening every time the government overspends, pointing out that public-sector workers have suffered real wage cuts of up to 7% since 1999.

The latest austerity measures have the support of right-of-centre parties, which say they will abstain from the budget vote, ensuring its passage.

The government has said it will present further cost-cutting measures later this month. It also plans to cut the amounts paid to civil servants who take early retirement.

General Confederation of Portuguese Workers general secretary Manuel Carvalho da Silva said: "There is a huge amount of discontent."

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