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Portugal Strike Against Labor Reform Halts Metro, Ferries

A strike against Portugal’s austerity measures and labor-market changes that are “killing the welfare state” halted the metro and some ferry services in Lisbon, making it difficult for commuters to get to work.

Lisbon’s metro, which carries about half a million passengers a day, will be shut until 1:00 a.m. tomorrow, Metro de Lisboa said on its website. Ferries from the capital city to towns on the southern bank of the river Tagus were canceled, while the capital city’s airport remained operational, airport manager ANA-Aeroportos de Portugal SA’s said on its website.

“We are protesting against the labor-market reform, unemployment and austerity measures that are killing the welfare state,” Armando Farias, a member of CGTP labor group’s executive committee, said in an interview. “The government is destroying the country.”

CGTP called the protest after the government signed an agreement on Jan. 18 with the UGT union to overhaul the labor market. The deal reduces the number of paid vacation days for employees and makes it easier to fire workers. The changes are part of the terms of Portugal’s 78-billion euro ($103 billion) bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

“This strike will hardly resolve the country’s problems,” Luis Marques Guedes, the secretary of state for the presidency of the council of ministers, said today in comments broadcast by SIC Noticias Television station.

A peaceful demonstration began at 2 p.m. at the Rossio square in central Lisbon that is expected to be followed by a march to Parliament, according to the CGTP’s website. The UGT said it won’t take part in today’s strike.

Galp Workers

Workers at Portugal’s Galp Energia SGPS SA Matosinhos and Sines refineries will probably join the one-day strike, Diario Economico reported on March 20, without saying how it got the information. Unions representing some Galp workers at the two plants didn’t respond to two phone calls. Both refineries are “operating normally,” Pedro Marques Pereira, a spokesman for Galp, said by phone today.

The protest takes place five months after CGTP and UGT held a general strike against government spending cuts in the public sector and an increase in taxes that have weighed on the southern European country’s economy.

Portugal’s economic growth has averaged less than 1 percent a year in the past decade, one of Europe’s weakest rates. The economy is expected to shrink 3.3 percent this year, the European Commission forecast on Feb. 23, more than twice the 1.5 percent contraction last year.

Unemployment, which reached 12.7 percent in 2011, will rise to 14.5 percent this year before declining to less than 14 percent in 2013, Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar said on Feb. 28.

“I understand the reasons behind the protest, but the country is in such a difficult situation that I don’t think anyone can afford to take a day off to strike,” Maria Celeste, who’s 63 and unemployed due to health issues, said at a Lisbon metro station yesterday.

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