Thursday, March 22, 2012

Portugal Hit By General Strike Against Austerity

Portugal Hit by General Strike against Austerity

22 Mar 2012
Nigeria ThisDay

Portugal's major cities ground to a halt Thursday as unions began a 24-hour strike against austerity measures agreed by the government in return for an international bailout.

Garbage went uncollected, ports closed, trains stood still, public transportation was disrupted and other public services were affected by the country's second general strike in four months, reports AFP.

The metros in Lisbon and Oporto, Portugal's second-largest city, were closed because of the strike, forcing tens of thousands of commuters to find an alternative way to get to work or school.

The majority of ports, including the port of Lisbon and Viana do Castelo in the north, were closed, according to the country's biggest union -- the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) -- which called the strike.

About two dozen ships were forced to change their routes to go to other ports because of the action, it added.

The strike disrupted rail service between Lisbon and Oporto and halted garbage collection in several cities including the Lisbon suburb of Almada and the southern city of Evora which is famous for its Roman ruins, the union said.

Demonstrations and rallies are also planned for 38 cities and towns across the country, including Lisbon, Evora and Coimbra, in the afternoon.

The CGTP, which is close to the Communist Party, called the strike in February to protest against a reform of the labour code that makes it easier to hire and fire workers.

It is also angry over government austerity measures such as the elimination of public employees' Christmas and vacation bonuses -- each roughly equivalent to a month's pay -- among measures to rein in the public deficit.

Speaking ahead of the strike, CGTP secretary general Armenio Carlos called the labour law reform a "Machiavelic attempt to suppress workers' rights".

Unlike the last general strike held in Portugal on November 24, 2011, Thursday's strike does not have the backing of Portugal's second-biggest union, the historically more moderate General Worker's Union (UGT) which reached an agreement with the government over the labour law reforms.

Portugal is locked into a three-year programme of debt-reduction measures and economic reforms in return for a 78 billion euro ($103 billion) financial rescue package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

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