General strike over budget cuts set to disrupt Portugal

23rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Transport, schools and hospitals are expected to be severely disrupted Thursday as private and public sector workers protest a tough 2012 austerity budget aimed at helping Portugal pay its debt.

Portugal's two main unions, the CVTP and the UGT, said they were expecting a high turnout from unhappy workers, with around 30 demonstrations planned around the country.

Flights, public transport, health and education services are all likely to be affected.

"We are going to have a big strike which must be understood as a necessary sacrifice to find paths for the future," said Manuel Carvalho da Silva, CGTP Secretary General.

Subway train services in Lisbon and the northern city of Porto are predicted to come to a standstill and delays are expected on ferry services in the capital.

Flights out of the country's three main airports in Lisbon, Porto and the southern city of Faro are also set for disruption, potentially affecting travel for 50,000 passengers.

Authorities say one in two buses around the country will be running.

Unions say they are hoping that three million people will protest, equalling the turnout of a strike on November 24, 2010 against austerity measures proposed by the then Socialist government.

"The general strike is one of indignation and unhappiness because people feel that their rights have been strongly affected," UGT Secretary General Joao Proenca told Lusa news agency.

It is not yet clear how much of the private sector will join the strikes but Volkswagen's Autoeuropa factory near to Lisbon said it would suspend production Thursday over fears that the strike would affect its suppliers.

The centre-right government has submitted a tough 2012 budget to help resolves its huge debt that among other measures includes the suspension of 13th and 14th month salary payments for civil servants and pensioners who earn more than 1,000 euros a month.

Employees in the private sector will see their working day increased by 30 minutes while health and education spending will be slashed, topping off a series of measures already adopted in efforts to reduce the deficit.

Prime Minister Passos Coelho has conceded that the measures are even tougher than those required under the EU-IMF bailout terms but says they are necessary to ensure its targets are met in the face of difficult economic conditions.

After Greece and Ireland in 2010, Portugal become the third eurozone member state needing a bailout in May when it could no longer raise fresh funds at sustainable rates on the financial markets.

It needs to reduce its public deficit from 9.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2010 to 5.9 percent by the end of 2011 but it stood at 8.3 percent earlier this year, putting that objective in doubt.

The forecast for 2012 looks no better, after the announcement by Portugal's Finance Minister Viktor Gaspar Monday that its economy is expected to shrink by 3 percent in 2012.

Unemployment is also set to rise to a record rate of 13.4 percent.

Thursday's strike follows protests earlier in the month by civil servants and soldiers and a public transport strike in Lisbon and Porto on November 8.

© 2011 AFP

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