Portugal hit by austerity strike


A strike by Portugal's largest trade union confederation forced the cancellation of most public transport services today as well as hitting schools and hospital services.

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

Arrivals and departures at Lisbon Airport were not affected.

Some schools sent children home because teachers and auxiliary staff stayed away from work, national media reported, while hospitals and health centres postponed or cancelled appointments.

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, representing more than 600,000 mostly blue-collar and public sector workers, called the 24-hour stoppage to protest against austerity measures and labour reforms attached to Portugal's 78 billion euro (£65 billion) bailout last year.

Portugal followed Greece and Ireland in needing a financial rescue after it built up massive debts during a decade of low growth.

Portugal's plight added momentum to the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis, and European leaders granted the bailout loan only after the country signed up to steep spending cuts and economic reforms aimed at generating growth.

However, the reforms will not start paying off until next year, and in the meantime pay cuts and tax hikes have helped keep the economy in recession for a second straight year and push the unemployment rate to a record of 14.8%.

Portugal's other large workers' confederation, the General Workers' Union, did not join today's strike. Earlier this year it endorsed an agreement with the government and businesses that makes it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.