Portugal strike over budget cuts disrupts transport
Flights and public transport were disrupted in Portugal on Thursday as workers staged nationwide strikes in protest at a tough 2012 austerity budget aimed at helping the country pay its debt.
The Lisbon metro was at a standstill and ferries across the capital's Tagus River were functioning only intermittently. Train services were also disrupted.
The national TAP airline cancelled 86 percent of its scheduled flights, a company official said, adding that air traffic controllers were planning to ensure only the bare minimum coverage.
"The first indications are of very strong support" for the strike, said Manuel Carvalho da Silva, secretary general of the CGTP union, which along with Portugal's other main union the UGT had called the strike action.
Health and education services were also expected to be affected.
It was not yet clear how much of the private sector would join the strike, but Volkswagen's Autoeuropa factory near Lisbon had said it would suspend production Thursday over fears that the strike would affect its suppliers.
Unions had said they were hoping that three million people will protest Thursday, equalling the turnout of a strike on November 24 last year against austerity measures proposed by the then Socialist government.
The current centre-right government led by Prime Minister Passos Coelho has submitted a tough 2012 budget to help reduce the nation's huge debt.
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.
Among other measures, the budget provides for 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.
"It is clear that Portugal needs a strong mobilisation because it is inadmissible that a country follows a logic of impoverishment... and not to respond to problems of employment." CGTP's da Silva said.
Coelho has conceded that the austerity 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.
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 Finance Minister Viktor Gaspar Monday that its economy is expected to shrink by three 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