Lisbon subway strike heralds new wave of protests
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The Lisbon subway closed Tuesday for the fourth time this year as striking workers continued their protests against austerity measures linked to Portugal’s 78 billion-euro ($105.7 billion) bailout.
Nurses and government workers also plan walkouts in coming weeks as labor groups resume their fight against the center-right government’s reforms after a summer lull.
The opposition from trade unions to cuts in public sector staffing levels, pay and pensions, as well as reforms that are snatching away long-standing job entitlements, is one of the biggest obstacles the government faces in implementing an economic recovery program demanded by the bailout creditors.
Though the coalition government has a comfortable majority in Parliament that allows it to pass legislation, it has seen some of its cuts rejected by the Constitutional Court.
Those difficulties have deepened fears Portugal may not be able to conclude the bailout’s three-year debt-reduction program and could require more financial help when it ends in the middle of next year, extending the debt crisis that has dogged the 17 countries that share the euro currency.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Tuesday he won’t budge from his austerity program. He said the rules on staying in the eurozone “are very clear and show the path toward budget discipline and responsibility we will have to follow in years to come.” His government is preparing more cuts, worth 4.7 billion euros, for next year.
Commuters in the Portuguese capital faced delays getting to work in the 24-hour subway strike. Alternative bus services were crowded, and roads into Lisbon were clogged with traffic.
Workers at the Metropolitano de Lisboa are opposed to cuts in their overtime pay and subsidized lunches. Those measures are due to be enacted in December. Other grievances include government plans to privatize some transport companies, though details of those sell-offs have not yet been revealed.
They walked off the job eight times last year, joining other militant labor groups at public transport companies in the fight against the government.
Staff at the Government Budget Office are going on strike for the three days before the presentation of the 2014 State Budget on Oct. 15. They also held a 24-hour walkout last week. They complain their department is short of staff to handle the workload.
Nurses are due to begin a series of partial stoppages next week to protest against an increase in government employees’ working hours to 40 hours a week from 35.
The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, the country’s biggest labor group with some 600,000 mostly blue-collar workers, plans protest marches in Lisbon and Porto, the second-largest city, on Oct. 19.