Today's protest outside Lisbon City Hall. Photo: Filipe Amorim/ Lusa

School janitors demonstrate against model for hosting World Youth Day

Union already has strike notices in place

A group of non-teaching workers has been demonstrating outside Lisbon City Hall (CML) today in protest to what it calls “the operation model for hosting World Youth Day participants in school buildings”.

The protest, organised by the Union of Workers in Public and Social Functions of the South and Autonomous Regions (STFPSSRA), comes in the context that there are already two strike notices relating to World Youth Day commitments – designed to spare non-teaching staff from being ‘press ganged’ into overtime and other unforeseen and unrelated duties.

Union leader Luís Esteves told Lusa: “We have situations of workers who will work eight or nine days with more than 12 hours and night work. CML should reflect, because we only have two municipalities wanting to impose the issue of early working hours: Oeiras and Lisbon. All the other municipalities have already realised that it makes no sense for non-teaching workers to have to be up at dawn”… during the school holidays.

According to the STFPSSRA official, the imposition of five hours of overtime work in a 12-hour schedule “is illegal”, particularly since the maximum allowed by law is only two hours. 

Esteves also regretted the lack of a concrete response to the union’s strike notices.

“What can be done is a model that obliges the municipalities and school boards to take those responsible for each WYD school and make them responsible for the organisation. If there are municipalities that do not change the schedules of their workers, they give them the option of whether they want to come or not. If there are municipalities that do not have models of night schedules and manage to organise themselves, the other municipalities, in this case Lisbon and Oeiras, could also do this”, he said.

With the warning that pilgrims from other countries will start arriving for this mega event on Sunday, Luís Esteves criticised what he called the “emptiness and disorganisation” in the definition of a model for coordinating reception, and stressed that his members are being asked “everything at the last minute“; many are being faced with changes in schedules without any kind of consultation.

“These are things that will wear people down and that’s why we issued this (strike) notice. 

“We have nothing against World Youth Day; we think it is an important event, but we cannot agree with this model”, he stressed, assuring that he had sent “letters” to all the municipalities in the Lisbon area.

Beyond the issue of ‘forced labour’, Esteves also highlighted fears about the health and safety of school premises assigned to welcome pilgrims.

“We would like to know how and who is doing the control them, and if all the people who enter the schools are, in fact, WYD participants or if we will have some intruders. 

“These are questions that matter not only to the workers, but should also matter to the people who will be occupying the schools,” he added.

In many respects, WYD has been discussed for weeks now, and citizens are given the impression organisation is being taken seriously. Equally, even those at the top (like Bishop Américo Aguiar) have quipped about “likely traffic chaos” during the event – and this hasn’t been helped by the number of strike notices from various quarters, including nurses and doctors.

The truth is that many residents in the areas most affected have ‘made plans’ to be elsewhere during World Youth Day. The prospect of 1.5 million young people descending on the capital in the habitual mayhem of August is more than many can even imagine trying to tolerate.

UPDATE: As this story went up online, a source for Lisbon City Hall refuted the allegation of ‘forced labour’, stressing non-teaching staff would be paid for overtime accordingly, and would not have to work if they didn’t want to. Celebrating a protocol to use 110 schools, and three municipal buildings, to accommodate 41,000 pilgrims, mayor Carlos Moedas told reporters “there are volunteers available to assure the functioning of schools to welcome WYD participants”.

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