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Portugal hit by anti-austerity strike

Schools, hospitals, courts and state offices across Portugal were hit by a day-long strike on Friday called by civil servants fed up with austerity-linked salary and job cuts.

Banners were put up in front of many institutions proclaiming “closed due to the strike”. The protest was called by federations linked to the two main trade unions, the CGTP and UGT.

“Civil servants have had enough, it’s a cry of revolt, they cannot make any more sacrifices,” said Ana Avoila, the coordinator of a group staging the protest.

Surgical procedures in hospitals were delayed or cancelled, while the main union of teachers claimed that a million pupils from kindergarten age to high schoolers could not attend classes.

Garbage disposal facilities and public transport were also affected.

Portugal’s centre-right government has embarked on a major belt-tightening plan. The parliament last year passed a law providing salary cuts of between 3.5 percent and 10 percent for civil servants earning 1,500 euros or more a month.

It also extended the 35-hour working week by five hours to 40.

In May last year, Portugal exited a three-year, 78-billion-euro ($88-billion) bailout programme from the European Union and International Monetary Fund but the government still has to cut spending to meet budget targets.

“The civil servants have suffered the most punishment due to the policies imposed by the troika” of lenders, said Luis Lobo, a spokesman for the teachers’ union, referring to the IMF, EU and the European Central Bank.

“Since 2011, our salaries have gone down by 11 percent,” he said.

Since the start of the austerity programme in 2011, more than 71,000 jobs in the public sector have been cut.