Portugal strike disrupts public transport

AP News
Posted: Mar 22, 2012 10:45 AM
Portugal strike disrupts public transport

A strike by Portugal's largest trade union confederation to protest austerity measures and labor reforms disrupted public transport services but had a mostly patchy turnout Thursday.

The Lisbon subway, which carries more than a half-million passengers every weekday, stayed closed. Train, bus and ferry companies in the capital and the second-largest city Porto provided fewer services, making it hard for commuters to get to work. Long traffic queues built up on roads into both cities as commuters resorted to their cars.

Arrivals and departures at Lisbon airport, however, were not affected.

Some high schools sent children home because teachers and auxiliary staff stayed away from work, national media reported. Health services postponed or canceled some medical appointments, and some government departments shut their doors or were short of staff.

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, representing more than 600,000 mostly blue-collar and public sector workers, called the 24-hour stoppage to fight policies enacted in return for last May's (EURO)78 billion ($103 billion) bailout.

Portugal is locked into a three-year program of tax hikes and pay and welfare cuts, as well as reforms to improve feeble economic growth, as part of the bailout deal. The policies have helped keep the economy in recession for a second straight year and push the unemployment rate to a record of 14.8 percent.

The union confederation's leader, Armenio Carlos, conceded it was difficult to mobilize workers who are struggling to pay their bills and can't afford to take a day off work but said his organization will continue protests.

"This is the same path that was taken by Greece, which resulted in a huge failure," he said of the bailout agreement.

Portugal has won praise from its European Union partners for abiding by the terms of the bailout. There is broad political support for the strategy in Portugal, as parties that gave their blessing to the bailout terms gathered about 80 percent of the votes cast in last June's general election.

Government spokesman Luis Marques Guedes said the walkout "won't help our country's situation, it'll just worsen it."

"We have the feeling that the great majority of Portuguese agrees with the government on this," he told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Portugal hasn't seen any of the violent street protests witnessed in Greece.

Portugal's other large workers' confederation, the General Workers' Union, didn't join Thursday's strike. Earlier this year, it endorsed an agreement with the government and businesses which, among other measures, makes it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.