LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A 24-hour strike by Lisbon subway staff snarled rush-hour traffic in the Portuguese capital Thursday, heralding a new spate of planned strikes against the bailed-out country's austerity policies.
The Metropolitano de Lisboa carries on average a half-million passengers a day. Long queues formed for packed buses which got stuck in heavier traffic than usual as commuters resorted to their cars.
Unions representing subway workers called the walkout over labor reforms and cuts in wage entitlements. The government plans to merge the subway company with the Lisbon bus company, Carris, which is also state-owned, to save money by streamlining services provided by the loss-making companies.
The government is enacting those measures, including making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff, in return for a 78 billion euros ($101 billion) financial rescue two years ago.
Strikes have petered out in recent months as workers have become more reluctant to give up a day's pay — incomes are down due to the steep recession and the unemployment rate has climbed to 17.7 percent. Subway workers staged three 24-hour strikes last year.
Government workers and employees of public companies plan more walkouts in coming weeks, including a strike by teachers during the period of high-school summer exams in June.
The country's two trade union confederations, representing more than 1 million mostly blue-collar workers, are also considering rare joint protests.