Portugal civil servants strike against austerity
Portuguese civil servants shut schools, courts and hospitals yesterday in a strike to protest against austerity with unions saying 80 per cent took part and the Socialist government putting that figure at just 14 percent.
Civil servants are challenging the government's freeze on their wages this year during a deep economic downturn that has taken unemployment to its highest in a quarter of a century.
"Civil servants won't back down, they will resist, to change the government's position," Ana Avoila, coordinator for the Common Front union, told Reuters outside a social security centre in central Lisbon which had shut for the day.
She said health services, local government and schools were shut across the country. A spokesman at one of Lisbon's biggest hospitals said all consultations, normally 500 a day, were cancelled.
But the government - under pressure from financial markets to reduce the budget deficit - said the impact of the strike was minimal with just 14 per cent of workers not at work.
"The figures show that a majority of civil servants accepted the message of realism and responsibility," said Goncalo Castilho, secretary of state for public administration. The strike in heavily indebted Portugal follows industrial action in Spain and Greece, which announced €4.8 billion in spending cuts on Wednesday, targeting civil servants, the rich and the church, to cut its huge debt burden.
Portugal's unions say they have had years of worsening conditions as public pensions and other benefits were cut by the Socialists.
Portuguese unions have threatened more stoppages if the government extends the freeze on civil servant wages beyond this year and may try to persuade private sector workers to join.