“Many thousands of proceedings already postponed…”
Judicial staff are back on strike today, with a one-day strike called by the Judicial Officers’ Union and the first day of another four months of “normal, but also creative”, strikes by the Judicial Staff Union (SFJ).
“It will be a mixture of traditional, full-day strikes, which will not coincide throughout the country, which will be complemented with strikes by court, district or municipality, depending on the size of the court,” which will start at the time the first court hearing is scheduled, ending at 12 noon and/ or 5pm, depending on whether they start in the morning or afternoon, SFJ president António Marçal, has told Lusa.
Marçal stressed however that the strikes have been scheduled, but staff do not want to strike. If the Ministry of Justice “starts to respond in a concrete and complete way” to what he describes as “reasonable and fair” demands, everything could change.
SFJ’s demands – which led to a national all-day strike last Friday (and to a confessed arsonist being freed, without conditions) – mark the reopening of Portugal’s courts after the judicial holidays. They include the immediate opening of a recruitment campaign for access to all vacant posts and categories, and the inclusion of what is called the procedural recovery supplement in salaries, backdated to January 2021 and paid for a 14 month year, which, the union adds, “was provided for in two State Budgets”.
In the context of collective bargaining, SFJ wants a revision of the professional statute that ‘dignifies the career’, a special retirement scheme and multi-year recruitment to fill vacant posts.
Last week, the Union of Judicial Officers announced a national strike for today, lasting just one day, but admitted to escalating its struggle “if the government continues with its arrogance”.
In a statement released at the time, the union recalled that it has been on strike since the beginning of January, criticising the “deafening silence” and “inaction” of the Minister of Justice in relation to (again) the “just demands” of court clerks.
The union’s demands also refer to “the inclusion of the procedural recovery supplement in salaries, backdated to January 2021 and paid over 14 months; the opening up of promotions and new posts; and a specific retirement scheme”.
In successive strikes since the beginning of the year, judicial staff unions have put the onus on the Minister of Justice, Catarina Sarmento e Castro, and the government, to bring a halt to these stoppages which, as the minister herself admitted back in March, are “devastating justice”.
The unions estimate that many thousands of proceedings have already been postponed by the strikes and works to rule etc. – more than 100,000, according to SFJ calculations – and that if all acts are taken into account (such as summonses, notifications and others) there could be more than five million unfulfilled acts.
“With the protest continuing and, above all, a lack of commitment on the part of the Ministry of Justice to strengthening human resources, this will tend to get worse and recovering this lost time will take roughly two years,” António Marçal said in statements to Lusa last week.
Considering Portuguese Justice is already notorious for the time it takes to deliver what, in the final analysis, has been described sometimes as “the antithesis of justice”, every new day in which court business is disrupted is another blot on Portugal’s dismal copybook.
The Minister of Justice referred to the new professional statutes to resolve the unions’ demands last Friday, promising that the government’s project for revising statutes would be announced “in the next few days”. SFJ’s response was that the union will be happy to renounce its actions “when concrete proposals are known” – but not because of “just another announcement”.