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Strikes hit Portuguese ports, refineries

Striking dockers brought most of Portugal’s ports to a halt Monday, while the country’s two main oil refineries were barely functioning because of a three-day stoppage, union officials said.

The ports of Lisbon, Setubal, Sines and Aveiro on the Portuguese mainland were hit, along with others on the islands of the Azores and Madeira, leaders of the dock workers’ union Oficiaismar said.

Oficiaismar official Carlos Coutinho told the Portuguese news agency Lusa that cruise lines had been forced to alter their schedules as a result of the strike over working conditions and job cuts.

Another union representative said 90 percent of employees had stayed off work on the first day of the strike at the refineries at Sines, 150 kilometres (95 miles) south of Lisbon, and Matosinhos, in the north.

The strike was launched in protest at a new government labour code introduced last month with the aim of relaxing employment regulations as part of the terms of a massive 78 billion euro international bailout.

Oil company Galp said it had taken steps to minimise the impact of the strike and ensure supplies.

More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Lisbon and other Portuguese cities Saturday to protest against fresh austerity measures recently announced by the centre-right government.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced a rise in social security contributions for public and private sector workers together with cuts in employers’ contributions in a bid to kickstart job creation, with unemployment running at more than 15 percent.

On Tuesday, Portugal won a reprieve from its creditors, when the European Union and International Monetary Fund agreed to relax their deficit targets for 2012 and 2013, rewarding the Portuguese for pushing through reforms.

The global economic institutions are monitoring Portugal’s implementation of spending cuts and reforms required in return for the 78-billion-euro ($102 billion) rescue package the country received in 2011.

These cuts and reforms caused the economy to contract by 1.2 percent in the second quarter, faster than the 0.1 percent rate at the beginning of the year, with the drop for the whole year expected to hit 3.0 percent.