General strike cripples public transport in Portugal
Mar 22, 2012, 13:42 GMT
Lisbon - A general strike staged by Portuguese unions to protest the government's austerity policies and labour reform on Thursday crippled public transport and other services.
Armenio Carlos, leader of the country's largest trade union confederation CGTP, said the result of the 24-hour strike was 'positive' though it was 'difficult' to mobilize workers worried about losing a day's pay at the time of an economic crisis.
Fewer workers heeded complied with the CGTP's strike than in November, when the CGTP won the support of the second-largest trade union confederation, UGT.
The impact of the strike was mostly felt in the transport sector. The Lisbon underground remained closed, while the strike also largely paralyzed the underground railway in Porto, and ferry traffic across the river Tagus in Lisbon.
Train and bus traffic suffered interruptions. Air travellers were advised to check the status of their flights after some delays were reported. Traffic jams formed on entrance roads to Lisbon and other cities. Unions put the strike following in the transport sector at a minimum of 70 per cent.
Garbage accumulated on the streets while postal services came to a partial standstill. The strike had a lesser impact on hospitals, schools and the judiciary. Few private businesses heeded the strike call.
The general strike was the eighth in Portugal since the country returned to democracy after the 1974 Carnation Revolution ended a decades-long corporative dictatorship.
In contrast to the previous general strikes in November 2010 and November 2011, Thursday's stoppage was not supported by UGT, which gave its backing to a labour market reform making it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.
The strike also protested cuts in public employees' vacation bonuses and the government's spending cuts, which unions see as increasing poverty and unemployment.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is trying to meet the conditions set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which granted Portugal a bailout worth 78 billion euros (103 billion dollars).
The government expects the unemployment rate - currently at about 14 per cent - to continue rising as the economy shrinks by 3.3 per cent this year.
Lisbon met the EU target of cutting the budget deficit to 5.9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011. This year's target was set at 4.5 per cent.
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