Pre-pandemic, this was the result of SEF simply being understaffed at Faro airport... photo: Huw Pendleton

Strike by border guards threatens to “ruin Portugal’s summer”

A strike called by borders agency SEF is threatening to ruin Portugal’s summer.

This is the interpretation of the recovering tourism sector as well as council chiefs in the Algarve.

A statement put out today by AMAL and the Algarve tourism association goes as far as saying the two entities will lobby the government for a civil requisition unless SEF reconsiders.

This not about the legitimate constitutional right to strike, says the statement. “What is at stake is the right to work of many residents of the Algarve; the right to recover the region’s economy at a sensitive period in which the country has an edge over touristic destinations” by dint of the fact that its ‘Covid-situation’ is the best in Europe.

“We cannot waste this advantage after a long period with no activity that has strongly impacted on Algarvian businesses and families”, said the release, signed off by António Pina, president of AMAL (the Algarve association of municipalities) and João Fernandes, president of regional tourism board, RTA. 

In the wider context, APAVT, the Portuguese travel and tourism association backs the statement to the hilt, calling SEF’s plan an “obvious economic threat against Portugal at the precise moment that the recovery of tourism is making its first steps in this new phase of pandemic crisis, in which principal touristic markets have their eyes on Portugal”.

Says the association, a SEF strike at Lisbon airport on May 7 ‘caused enormous queues’ when incoming flights were still at a minimum and there was no tourism to speak of.

To even consider industrial action at this point “could ruin the summer”.

This is clearly what SEF has realised. At loggerheads with the government over plans to extinguish the service altogether (click here), from SEF’s point of view, this must be a ‘major bargaining chip’ moment.

In the ‘pre-announcement for industrial action’ sent by SEF’s syndicate to the government, the service outlines how it intends to protest.

Says Expresso, border inspectors will be refusing to work from 5am to 9am at Lisbon airport between 1-15 June, and from between 9am and midday at Faro airport.

There is no strike action outlined for Porto (very possibly because the city’s airport has less touristic traffic).

Madeira however has various actions planned: on May 31, June 7/ 14/ 21 and 28 – all timed for between 9am and midday.

Says APAVT, the plans will undermine confidence in Portugal as a touristic destination. “Every day that passes without this (strike) being called off will produce irredeemable negative effects on reservations”. 

This fight was always going to get ‘dirty’. The way the government ‘decided’ SEF’s extinction bordered on the unconstitutional. But is this the way to deal with it? AMAL’s António Pina describes the strike plan as “a tantrum”. SEF is hurting – but it is unlikely to win supporters by jeopardising the smooth-flow of travel into the country at such a critical time.

We can only ‘watch this space’ and see what happens next.

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