Coastal trawler strike continues
In May 1999, a strike by workers on Portuguese coastal trawlers had been going on for two months. The workers were mainly demanding pay increases, which the trawler owners rejected as being economically damaging.
Coastal trawlers, fishing primarily in the North of Portugal out of the ports of Matosinhos, Aveiro, and Figuieira da Foz, are responsible for 12% of the nation's fish catch. In late May 1999, workers on 45 vessels out of a total of 65 had been on strike for about two months.
The trawler workers, mainly through the Federation of Trade Unions of the Fishing Sector, (Federação dos Sindicatos do Sector das Pescas), affiliated to the CGTP confederation, are demanding an increase of PTE 10,000 in their basic monthly salaries, which are currently set at PTE 25,500, and a 0.3 percentage point increase in the proportion they receive of the value of the catch, to 1.5% from the 1.2% level set in 1969. They are also asking for risk pay, changes in weekend and holiday pay, Christmas and vacation pay on a par with their average salary and fixed launch times. According to the union, average monthly salaries are presently around PTE 138,000 to PTE 140,000. In support of its claims, the union notes that trawler owners receive subsidies that cover 60% of the cost of new vessels. In addition, because workers' basic salaries are very low, their retirement pensions will also be so.
Since an agreement has already been negotiated with the General Workers' Union (UGT), it has been difficult to come to an agreement with the Federation, according to the trawler owners. They claim that meeting the workers' demands would lead to bankruptcy, given that economic studies carried out by the Association of Industrial Fishing Vessel Owners (Associação dos Armadores da Pesca Industrial, ADAPI) show that financial losses would be high. Labour costs would rise from 38.3% to 46.3% of total costs for the larger trawlers, making them economically unfeasible. The owners further state that there is no need to increase the percentage of the catch given to workers, as this variable portion of their salary goes up automatically each year as the price of fish increases. They believe that the social security contribution rate should be lowered. At 34.75%, it is currently higher in industrial fishing than the 29% charged elsewhere. The owners also believe that sport fishing should be regulated because thousands of anglers are fishing illegally, diminishing resources and distorting a market that is already perceived as being very fragile.
The strike is being followed closely by municipal governments since fishing is an important economic activity in some cities. City officials have urged the two sides to continue dialogue. Demonstrations have been held in front of the council of ministers, boycotts have been called and fish wholesalers have been closed to keep frozen fish from coming in from foreign countries. The secretary of state for fishing states that since this is a labour dispute, the government should make only a limited intervention.