The industrial action planned for next Wednesday (24 November) is forecast in many quarters to result in the biggest strike by workers Portugal has witnessed and cost millions in lost revenue.
As hundreds of thousands lay down their tools, disruption, especially for commuters, is expected to be extensive, while the state is already predicting the strike will cost the taxpayer tens of millions euros resulting from the loss in productivity.
But the leader of the UGT trade union is convinced next week’s action is for the greater good.
Expressing the conviction that the 24 November strike will be the “biggest ever”, João Proença also said it was “fair and fundamental in changing government policy”.
“Government policies will have a negative impact on employment. We need policies that give preference to increasing employment”, explained Mr. Proença in recent comments to journalists as he underlined the objectives of the UGT for the general strike.
The UGT leader also stressed that the “budget deficit cannot be the first, second and third priority in Portugal”.
Predicting unprecedented numbers will take to the streets in demonstrations, João Proença also forecast that transport systems will be paralysed for the duration of the 24-hour strike while national ports will be forced to shut down.
He also said he expected large numbers of privately employed people to join their counterparts in the civil service in striking, but added that large numbers would probably end up going to work as a “third of privately employed workers do not have permanent contracts” and might be pressured by their bosses into going to work.
The aviation and tourism industries are also bracing themselves for huge losses, with national airline TAP, airport operator ANA and handling company Groundforce predicting direct losses of more than eight million euros on the day of the strike.
Despite the widespread disruption of the labour action, the government, and more specifically the Finance Minister, has refused to be swayed into making concessions to unions, saying the strike will “change nothing”.
“I believe there is no need to be agitated about the general strike. Trade unions have called it, they have a right to do so, but that won’t change the government’s mind about what needs to be done”, Teixeira dos Santos said in a recent press conference.
The minister added that “the country’s financing capacity is at stake” and that fiscal consolidation will be “harsh and demanding” but it needs to be done, or “the nation’s situation will be much worse than people imagine”.
Teixeira dos Santos has also tried to justify the austerity measures workers are protesting against next week, saying that the government’s macroeconomic forecasts in its 2011 budget will be “prudent”, and that he expects these measures to “naturally have an impact” on economic growth.
“In 2011, Portugal’s growth will be lower than in 2010, both due to the tenuous recovery in the global economy – especially within [Portugal’s] main trading partners – and to the impact of the additional fiscal restraint measures”, the minister said.
Teixeira dos Santos further estimated that a round of wage cuts up to 10% will result in a €1 billion decrease in public spending for 2011.
Labour confederations CGTP and UGT, in a near-unprecedented move, called a joint general strike for November 24 protesting a package of government austerity measures aimed at reducing the country’s deficit.
Dozens of other smaller labour unions have since announced their support of the strike and called on their members to stay away from work.