Nurses strike hits Portugal hospitals
Nurses launched a two-day strike in Portugal on Tuesday to protest salary cuts and longer hours imposed as part of the bailed-out nation's austerity squeeze.
“Medical consultations and surgical operations will have to be cancelled because of the lack of nurses,” said Portuguese nurses’ union chief Jose Carlos Martins.
The union said 87 percent of nurses followed the strike call in the morning in protest at the extension of their work week from 35 hours to 40 hours and salary cuts. It said some nurses earned just 3.40 euros ($4.40) an hour.
The union blamed the “deteriorating work conditions” on austerity policies introduced by Portugal in exchange for a 78 billion euro ($100 billion) bailout extended in May 2011 by the “troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank and IMF.
The tight-fisted budget policies have been blamed for deepening the Portuguese recession, with a 2.3 percent contraction of the economy forecast for this year at a time when the country is suffering a record unemployment rate of more than 18 percent.
The budget cuts have sparked a wave of protests.
After demonstrations by teachers, dockers and postal workers, police had planned a rally for Wednesday in Lisbon against cutbacks that they said put policing operations at risk.
On Monday evening, however, the National Association of Sergeants, which had called the rally, cancelled the plan because of political instability surrounding the government.
Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco was consulting with political parties Tuesday before announcing his decision on a deal aimed at ensuring the survival of the fragile coalition government.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho on Saturday said ex-foreign minister Paulo Portas, who stepped down last week in protest at austerity measures, would become deputy premier in a bid to hold the ruling coalition together.
Portas is also the leader of the junior partner in the coalition, the conservative CDS-PP, whose fragile alliance with Coelho’s Social Democrats is key to the coalition’s survival.
The government crisis was sparked by the resignation on July 1 of then finance minister Vitor Gaspar.
Reporting to Portas will be the new finance minister, Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque, whose appointment he had opposed for fear she would pursue grinding economic reforms in defiance of protesters.
At the same time, the unions have resumed negotiations with the government on a new law for public sector workers, with higher social security contributions, longer work hours or even layoffs on the table.
The political crisis is raging just ahead of a visit by representatives of the troika of creditors on July 15 to assess the state of Portugal’s accounts.