President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at the seminar “The role of the economy in the fight against poverty” at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon on June 3 - Photo: MANUEL DE ALMEIDA/LUSA

Poverty in Portugal: Marcelo wants more government action

President defends “global strategy” to eradicate poverty

With 2.3 million people in Portugal (roughly one in five) in a situation of poverty, President Marcelo has appealed for a global strategy to tackle the problem, as quickly as possible.

Talking yesterday to a surprisingly unpacked hall at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, he underlined the need for political consensus following results of various studies and reports highlighting the fact that more Portuguese now are ‘at risk of poverty’ than before the pandemic.

The faster the government moves, the better, he said.

PM pledges commitment to raising minimum wage by 20%… but when?

As Marcelo was giving his message up in Lisbon, prime minister António Costa was giving another down south in the Algarve, defending an increase of 20% for minimum wages.

Explain reports, he “appealed to businesses to contribute to a collective effort to raise the salaries of the Portuguese so that there is “greater justice in payments’ policies”.

The PM was talking to an audience made up of young people, thus it would be difficult to have given an alternative message.

The problem with it was that it was bereft of any tangible time-scale, and follows a ‘controversial’ State Budget in which traditionally paltry salaries essentially lost their already limited purchasing power due to inflation.

Putting the onus therefore on businesses may have appeared a tad expedient. 

The PM stressed nonetheless that businesses have to be aware that “there should be greater justice in the payments’ policies they practice”, given that across the EU the weight of salaries in terms of national wealth is 48%, when in Portugal it lags behind with only 45%.

“What does this signify?” He asked the national meeting of juvenile associations (ENAJ), in Vila Real de Santo António. His answer: “That in the next four years we –  society, the State, businesses – have to make the effort together so that the weight of our salaries, the salaries of the Portuguese, is at least identical in terms of GDP to the European average. In other words, we have to go from 45% to 48%, which implies a 20% increase in the national minimum wage”.

The young generation, said the PM, is a generation that businesses have to understand is “the most internationalised that the country has ever had” (…) “Business have to understand that if they want to sell competitively, they have to start being competitive at the point of hiring if they really want to hire, retain and attract the talent they need to produce quality products effectively.

“For this, the priority already defined with social partners is that, now the debate phase on decent work is over, we have to concentrate on an agreement for competitivity and earnings…” 

As Catarina Martins Bloco de Esquerda coordinator quipped, it is hard to believe that a government that only last week shut the door on any meaningful public sector salary increases could now be calling for higher wages.

Calling Mr Costa’s speech the stuff of ‘make-believe politics’, she said: “Yes, Portugal has to increase salaries but Portugal will not get there with the prime minister who thinks it is a good idea for businesses to increase salaries while the State Budget leaves them absolutely frozen, and refuses even intermediate increases in the national minimum wage. What we need today, and every day, is serious politics…”

Something more substantial than words. 

President Marcelo for his part has said he is all for a 20% increase in the minimum wage. He said salaries “have to accompany the increase in wealth of the country”.

Meantime, next month will see a mass demonstration called by the CGTP (confederation of Portuguese workers) aimed at reinforcing the iniquity of low wages and ‘miserable pensions’.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com