By: CHRIS GRAEME
THOUSANDS OF public sector workers took to the streets in Lisbon on Friday on the final day of a week of demonstrations around the country against government reforms.
Crowds gathered in the city’s Praça do Município in front of Lisbon Câmara at 3pm joining others bearing flags outside the Ministry of Finance in Terreiro do Paço.
In all, around 200,000 went on strike on Friday around the country in what national newspapers dubbed the Spring of Discontent.
The strike, which paralysed public services, was called by the National Federation of Public Sector Unions (FNSP) and the Portuguese General Workers and Transport Union (CGTP).
The 24-hour stoppage affected schools, ministries and auxiliary workers at hospitals, health centres and staff at the department of health.
The crowd of demonstrators then marched off to the official residence of the Prime Minister at Sao Bento.
The strike, which included speeches by the Secretary-General of the CGTP, Carvalho da Silva, rounded off a General Unions Week of Struggle (Frente Comum dos Sindicatos da Função Publica) which began with a nationwide teachers’ demonstration on Saturday March 9.
“There’s a general discontent and good reasons why public sector workers should protest,” said Ana Aviola on behalf of the unions.
“If government policies move forward, public sector employees will continue in their protest,” she added.
Ever since the government’s public sector budget crisis became more evident in 2002, public sector workers have been targeted in its attempts at rationalisation, amalgamation and overall cost cutting.
Portugal has one of the largest public sector administrations in Europe for a country of its size with approximately 750,000 employed by the state out of a working population of around 5 million.
Between 2002 and 2007, public sector expenditure, particularly over public sector pay, was slashed from 14.7 to 12.8 per cent – one of the biggest cuts in Europe. In recent years, pay rises have remained considerably below the rate of inflation while between 2005 and 2007 automatic career promotions were effectively frozen.
At the same time the government has introduced a widespread system of performance evaluation across the board, particularly in education with clearly defined quotas.
The government has also pressed ahead with a mobility scheme whereby staff can be transferred from ministry or department to another depending on where staff is needed.
The latest and most controversial reform on the table is a new disciplinary statute which sets out under what circumstances poor public sector employee performance can lead to dismissal.
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