By CHRIS GRAEME & PAULO SILVESTRE [email protected]
Portugal’s public transport system ground to a standstill on Wednesday as union leaders called a General Strike over public sector salary cuts and Government austerity measures.
Airports at Lisbon, Faro and Porto were largely deserted as most international flights were either cancelled or delayed.
At Lisbon’s Portela Airport flights were cancelled until 12.30am on November 25.
In Porto, no flights departed before 2.45pm on Wednesday while in the Azores there is little information available as to which flights are operating between Ponta Delgada and the Portuguese mainland.
Only one flight to Madeira was definitely cancelled overnight but all other flights were subject to delays, with passengers being given sketchy information.
Lisbon’s Metro (ML) was shut down at 11.30pm on Tuesday evening with 100 per cent support for the strike according to the nation’s largest union, the CGTP (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portuguesas).
There were no trains running on the metro system during the day.
In Porto, four out of five lines were not operating. The only line in operation was limited to two trains per hour until 10pm on Wednesday.
Between midnight and 6am on Wednesday, 57 CP overland train services were running at a minimal capacity nationwide, with 57 services out of the 74 anticipated.
Portugal’s largest and most important car production plant, VW Autoeuropa, also ground to a halt on Wednesday with the secretary-generals of the country’s two main unions, Manuel Carvalho da Silva of the CGTP and João Proença of the UGT (União Geral de Trabalhadores) staging a demonstration at the plant.
Speaking to reporters, the two union leaders stressed that the strike had been overwhelmingly successful, with widespread support from the transport and health sectors.
Various main hospitals were reduced to a skeleton staff on Wednesday in Coimbra (Central and University Hospitals), Almada (100 per cent) (Garcia da Horta), Setúbal, Santa Maria (92 per cent).
Rubbish collection stoppages on Tuesday night affected dozens of local authorities from midnight onwards, with some areas such as Guimarães, Coimbra, Évora, Amadora, Vila Franca de Xira, Almada, Barreiro, Matosinhos and Viana do Castelo particularly badly affected as 100 per cent of rubbish collectors stayed away from depots.
Hundreds of schools across the country closed on Wednesday as teachers joined the strike.
Large union-organised demonstrations were scheduled to take place in Lisbon at Alameda and Marquês de Pombal and Avenida de Liberdade on Wednesday afternoon, after the Algarve Resident went to press.
Meanwhile, in the Algarve, workers joined the General Strike in Portugal in large numbers.
In Olhão, the post office was closed and urgent mail delivery was the only duty undertaken on the day.
Also in Olhão, sardine fishing and rubbish collections were affected.
Workers at the Lidl supermarket in Tavira joined the strike and according to the Syndicates Union in the Algarve, the store opened only with two managers on duty.
There were no flights operating from Faro Airport. To cope with this situation, some airlines transferred passengers to Seville airport.
According to the Syndicates Union, nurses on the night shift at Algarve hospitals also joined the strike, with a 100 percent turnout in Lagos Hospital.
In Faro Hospital, 93 per cent of the staff were on strike, while at Barlavento Hospital in Portimão the figure was 81 per cent.
Ports in the Algarve region were brought to a total standstill.
Port and Maritime Transport Institute (IPTM) dock workers and maritime traffic controllers joined the strike, paralysing all ports in the region from Sagres to Vila Real de Santo António, affecting all the activity and dock operations with merchant ships, cruises, fishing boats and fishing shipyards.
The Saga Pearl II cruise ship, due to stop at Portimão Port with 446 passengers and 252 workers on board, had to be re-routed to the Port of Seville.
At Faro port, a vessel carrying 2,200 tonnes of carob for the United Kingdom had to postpone its trip and fishermen left their boats tied to docks.
Rail, road, air and sea transport and all related activities – maritime, port and air traffic control – were heavily affected by the General Strike.
The union syndicates made a joint appeal for workers to join the strike in numbers and to protest against the current economic situation in the region that is being strongly affected by Government decisions.
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