It has sparked endless protests and has been voted against by every member of the Opposition, yet on Tuesday the coalition government approved the controversial draft of the 2014 State budget, which will bring with it a whole new batch of crippling austerity measures.
And while opposition parties condemned the government for its rejection of any of their suggestions, Finance Minister Maria Luís de Albuquerque explained the state’s hands were tied and that those suggesting alternative measures should name their short-term consequences.
Pensioners and public workers are amongst the most affected by the new budget. Besides the possibility of losing their jobs, public servants who earn a monthly wage above €600 will be facing a cut of between 2.5% and 12% on monthly wages next year, while pensioners are seeing their incomes targeted, especially those at higher levels.
Thousands of people turned out in force to show how they felt on Tuesday. While an unhappy crowd gathered outside, over a dozen protestors made their way into parliamentary galleries to demand the government’s resignation.
Maria Luís de Albuquerque was forced to delay her speech as security personnel escorted the hecklers out of the building.
Some of the protestors affiliated to different unions even entered the ministries of economy, health, environment and finance to demand talks with the respective ministers concerning the approved budget.
One of the organisers of the protest, the secretary general of CGTP workers union Arménio Carlos, said that “what is going on in this country is a disgrace”, referring more specifically to one of the measures included in the budget – the increase in weekly working hours from 35 to 40 for public servants.
Despite the welter of angry protests, Portugal’s Constitutional Court gave the go-ahead to government plans to add five hours to state workers’ weekly timetables only a day before the approval of the budget. The decision was fraught with uncertainty, however, and ended up with a split jury: seven in favour and six against. Nonetheless, it means public sector workers will now have to work 40-hour weeks.
Arménio Carlos then announced another cycle of protests between December 16 and 20, with a major event in front of the Belém Palace on December 19, in a plea to convince the Portuguese President Cavaco Silva to ask the Constitutional Court for a review of the budget.
Although Portuguese President Cavaco Silva has the technical power to forward the budget to the Constitutional Court for a review, the chances of this happening are almost non-existent. Cavaco has been stressing the need for the budget to be ready for implementation by January 1 next year.