Campaign against undeclared work in hotels and restaurants, Portugal


Hotel restaurant and catering
Target Groups: 


In 2007, the Northern Hotels Trade Union in Portugal started a campaign against informal and undeclared work (Campanha Contra Trabalho Clandestino e Trabalho Não Declarado). The campaign was based on a survey which found that a significant number of restaurants and beverage establishments in the northwestern Minho Region relied on such work. Overall, the initiative was well received and achieved some positive results.



In 2007, the Northern Hotels Trade Union or Trade Union for the Hotels Industry, Tourism, Restaurants and Related Activities in the North (Sindicato dos Trabalhadores da Indústria de Hotelaria, Turismo, Restaurantes e Similares do Norte) in Portugal carried out a survey on precariousness in the hotels and restaurants sector. The results show that the use of illegal and undeclared work has increased, mainly in restaurants and beverage establishments.

The study found that, of the 3,936 individuals employed by the 320 companies surveyed, about 33% (1,298 workers) were employed illegally. According to these data, the trade union estimates that, at national level, some 82,500 workers in restaurants and beverage establishments are without any social protection in case of illness or unemployment, as their employers do not pay the compulsory contributions to social security and income tax.

Moreover, the results show that 39% of the restaurants and beverage establishments surveyed do not declare, for tax purposes, the totality of their employees’ monthly remuneration. Cases were identified where workers officially receive the national minimum wage, but also receive an additional undeclared amount, which sometimes reaches over twice the declared sum.

Further irregularities were identified, such as nonfulfilment of the maximum working time of 40 hours a week, nonfulfilment of the rules for rest periods and non-payment of holidays. On average, employees work almost 53 hours a week in restaurants and beverage establishments. More than 94% of these establishments do not comply with the maximum working time of eight hours a day and 40 hours a week.

In general, hotels were found to comply with daily and weekly working times. However, in the northwestern Minho region, the survey found some establishments where employees work up to 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week, have only one day of rest and receive no payment for supplementary work. In this field of economic activity, the main concern is extra working time: some hotels have a reduced permanent staff and hire dozens of ‘extra’ workers.

Overall, illegal or undeclared work seriously compromises service quality and workers’ rights. It entails the evasion of tax and social security contributions, and encourages unfair competition against employers that are abiding by the law. Therefore, the Northern Hotels Trade Union decided to launch a campaign against all forms of precariousness and, in particular, illegal and undeclared work.

This campaign directly involved trade union representatives from the Northern Hotels Trade Union. However, indirectly, it also called on the participation of the Authority for Working Conditions (Autoridade para as Condições de Trabalho, ACT), the Social Security (Segurança Social), the government and the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity (Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade Social, MTSS).


The main objective of the campaign was ‘to combat illegal and underground work and undeclared work, particularly in restaurants and beverage establishments: restaurants, cafés, pâtisseries, confectioneries, pubs and similar establishments’.

Specific measures

The trade union initiative included the following measures:

  • a survey of a number of establishments in the hotels and restaurants sector;
  • meetings with public entities, namely ACT and the Social Security;
  • statements and reports to the government and competent ministries;
  • distribution and dissemination of posters and brochures in companies of the sector by trade union representatives, involving door-to-door activity.

Evaluation and outcome

Achievement of objectives

According to the President of the Northern Hotels Trade Union, Francisco Figueiredo, the campaign was well received by workers and public opinion. Even some employers found it useful.

As a result of this initiative, strike action was taken in a restaurant where only part of the workers’ remuneration was being declared; as a result, the establishment had to close. This protest convinced the employer to declare the full salaries from then on.

In other cases, the results were not as positive however. For example, the problem of undeclared work existed in a particular company but only half of the workers argued for their rights, resulting in a partial strike. The company took legal proceedings and fired all of the workers. The case is still in the court of justice.

Obstacles and problems

According to the person responsible for the campaign, the main obstacle to this initiative was the lack of action by ACT. In the trade union representative’s opinion: ‘ACT plays an informative role, providing training and monitoring but does not fully fulfil its legal statute – acting efficiently and coercively.’

Lessons learnt

Since no structured and consolidated monitoring or evaluation took place regarding this initiative, it is not easy to draw lessons from it. However, the person responsible for the campaign emphasised that it would be much more efficient if supported by the inspection activity of ACT.


According to the trade union representative responsible, the campaign can and should be transferred to other sectors and regions.


This kind of measure demonstrates that trade union intervention can be effective in tackling undeclared work. It seems that a combined effort by trade unions and inspection authorities would give an added value to this type of campaign.


Main organisation responsible:

Sindicato dos Trabalhadores da Indústria de Hotelaria, Turismo, Restaurantes e Similares do Norte

Rua de D. João IV, 224

4000-297 Porto, Portugal

Heloísa Perista and Jorge Cabrita, CESIS


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