EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Quality in work and employment — Portugal

PDF version Printer-friendly version
  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 28 June 2007

Jorge Cabrita

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Quality of work and employment is back at the top of the European employment and social policy agenda. At the first Informal meeting of Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs held under the German Presidency on 18/20 January 2007 in Berlin, agreement was reached on a set of policy principles covering what the Presidency termed ‘good work’ – a new EU terminology following on from the ILO use of ‘decent work, and the more established EU mantra of ‘more and better jobs’.This is the contribution of Portugal.

1. The importance of quality in work and employment

The guidelines of the employment policy programmes in force seem to point to a complementary relation between job creation and the pursuit of quality in work. Nevertheless, one must underline that, taking into account the present situation concerning the labour market, the policies and measures foreseen are more directed to the integration of the economic policies (both micro and macro) and the employment policies.

The National Action Plan for Employment 2005 – 2008 (PNE – Plano Nacional de Emprego), which is embedded in the National Action Programme for Growth and Employment 2005-2008 (PNACE – Programa Nacional de Acção para o Crescimento e o Emprego), aims to face, in an integrated and coherent way with the macro and microeconomic policies, both the conjunctural difficulties of the country and the structural level constraints which restrict the development of the employment system and, consequently, the development of Portugal.

One of the most important guidelines (the nr17) of PNE is to:

“Execute employment policies in order to achieve full employment, improve the quality and productivity of work and reinforce the social and territorial cohesion.”

According to PNACE, 'the creation of more and better jobs and higher social cohesion simultaneously with the productivity and competitiveness dynamisation of the Portuguese economy depends of the quality and the synergies sustained among the employment, education, training and research & development policies and of those with the macro and microeconomic and the social policies.’

2. Career and employment security

Flexicurity is a concept that has been included in the definition of some governmental priorities regarding the economic growth and the employment.

In fact, the 4th global priority of PNACE is to ‘promote flexibility with security in employment, re-conciling the workers’ rights with the necessity of increasing adaptation of the companies, in a background of reinforcement of social dialogue, combating the labour market segmentation in a context of incentive to the modernisation of work in order to improve the productivity and the employment quality.’

Regarding this priority, and although their assessment and evaluation are still being carried out, mention should be made to the foreseen measures to be implemented until 2008. They are:

  • Measure nr23 – The reform of the labour relations, aiming to improve the social dialogue and the collective bargaining in order to renew the bargaining system.

  • Measure nr24 – To stimulate the social partners, within the social dialogue, to regulate the evolution of the real wages according to the productivity and the labour market conditions. The intention is that the minimum wage should become an instrument of wage policy.

  • Measure nr25 – Programme of the General Labour Inspection against undeclared and illegal work, including illegal migrant workers. The intention is to reduce the informal, the undeclared and the illegal work.

  • Measure nr26 – National Action Plan for the Prevention, instrument of global policy regarding the prevention of occupational risks and accidents. The intention is to improve working conditions, namely in terms of health, hygiene and safety at work and to reduce substantially the incidence rate of accidents at work and occupational diseases.

3. Health and well being

  • Portugal, the issue of health and safety at work seems to be still related to accidents at work and occupational diseases mainly in industrial environments. The abovementioned National Action Plan for the Prevention, an instrument aiming to reduce the incidence rate of accidents at work and occupational diseases, is not yet approved, therefore it is not possible to know if this will address the emergence of new kinds of health concerns and if this will be developed with the participation of employers and trade unions.

How far is the health of older workers seen to be an issue in relation to the debate about increasing the effective retirement age?

The increase of the effective retirement age is one of the top issues of the present social dialogue national agenda. In October 2006, the government and the social partners reached an Agreement on the Social Security Reform, including the revision of the flexibilisation of the retirement age. This Agreement foresees the introduction of a penalisation factor to the pensions of those who opt to anticipate their retirement before 65 years old (this anticipation being possible for workers with at least 30 years of contributions to the social security and 55 years old) and the attribution of a bonus to those who stay in the labour market after the legal retirement age, for each month of additional effective work. This agreement was signed by the government, the prime minister and all the social partners, except by one the trade union confederations. Two of the main reasons presented by this trade union confederation for not signing the Agreement are, on the one hand, that this is not a reform oriented towards the sustainability of the system but a process which will lead to a progressive reduction of the pensions and, on the other hand, that employer organisations are not called to contribute to the social security system.

This concern is directly linked to the social protection system which, although not providing the same levels of protection as in other European countries, faces problems of financial sustainability and fraudulent use of its benefits. Therefore, the focus is clearly other than the health of older workers.

However, the priority of the National Action Programme for Growth and Employment aiming at the promotion of active ageing contains some general references in its lines of intervention that may take into account the health of older workers. These are:

4. Skills development

In Portugal, there is a general agreement (shared by the government, the social partners and the public) that the low level of education and occupational qualification of the Portuguese population is one of the main obstacles to sustainable economic development. This has important negative implications both in terms of social inclusion and cohesion, and also in terms of the path towards a knowledge and innovation society. It has also an impact in terms of the labour productivity increase, which reflects not only the low qualifications of the working population (including entrepreneurs and directors of many micro and small enterprises) but also the lack of innovation in terms of work organisation.

Therefore, not surprisingly, the first global priority of PNACE is to ‘reinforce the education and qualification of the Portuguese, guaranteeing the qualification of the new generations; promotion of a culture of life-long learning based on a new model of education/training which, taking into account the necessary dynamisation of the knowledge society and the generalisation of the technologies of information and communication, reduces the inequalities and strangulations of the labour market.’

Under the domain of ‘Qualification, employment and social cohesion’, the first priority is to ‘reinforce the education and qualification of the Portuguese citizens’. Its main goals are:

  • To raise the employment rate from 67.8% in 2004 to 69% in 2008 and 70% in 2010;

  • To raise the female employment rate from 61.7% in 2004 to 63% in 2008;

  • To maintain the employment rate of workers with 55 to 64 years old above 50% in 2010;

  • To guarantee that all the EU job candidates can consult all the job offers publicised in the employment services of the different Member States;

  • To guarantee that at least 25% of the long term unemployed should participate, per year, until 2010, in some active measure such as training, reconvertion, professional experience, employment or other measures promoting employability;

  • To cover 25.000 qualified youngsters per year in professional traineeships until 2009;

  • To increase the number of jobs in the Information and Communication Technologies sector up to 3% of total employment until 2010 (representing the creation of approximately 44.000 new jobs);

  • To increase, until 2010, at least up to 40% the proportion of workers using computer connected to the internet in their jobs (19% in 2004);

  • To guarantee that 100% of the children with five years old attend pre-school in 2009, aiming to reach a coverage of 90% of the children aged between three and five in 2010;

  • To guarantee that, until 2010, 35% of the children up to three years old are covered by childcare services (30% in 2008), raising the vacancies in those equipments by 50% during the present legislature.

In this frame, some of the most relevant foreseen measures within PNACE are:

  • Measure nr8 – To accomplish the Bologna Process and the reform of the high education system.

  • Measure nr9 – To reinforce the education and training system in the context of life-long learning.

  • Measure nr10 – To promote the training and the skills certification in technologies of information and communication.Has the fact that demand for manual skills is falling, and demand for non-manual skills rising, been reflected in the type of support provided by the educational and training systems in your country?

The Programme of Incentives to the Economy Modernisation (PRIME – Programa de Incentivos à Modernização da Economia), approved by the European Commission in May 2003, integrates a set of middle term instruments of economic policy, directed to the sectors of industry, energy, construction, transports, tourism, commerce and services. It aims to reinforce productivity and competitiveness of companies and to promote new development potentials.

The objectives contained in one of its strategic axes, namely nr2 – ‘human resources qualification’, incorporate the need to reinforce the workers’ skills. They are:

  • To reinforce the qualifications and skills of the workers regarding the growing companies and organisations’ needs;

  • To develop and reinforce the skills of human resources through the development of active policies resulting from the system/market flaws;

  • To promote the qualification of specialised professionals;

  • To provide companies with adequate technical staff regarding development and better positioning in the added value chain.

If the PRIME refers to the need of developing the workers’ skills in order to improve the productivity and the competitiveness of companies in a general way, the Portuguese Technological Plan directly stresses the need to mobilise the population towards a Knowledge Society.

The Technological Plan (Plano Tecnológico) is an action agenda for all the Portuguese society (approved in November 2005), which aims at mobilising companies, families and institutions for overcoming the modernisation challenges the country has been facing during the last years. Within this context, the Portuguese Government has assumed the Technological Plan as a priority in the implementation of its public policies. The measures aggregated in this plan constitute one of the pillars for the National Action Programme for Growth and Employment (PNACE 2005-2008).

As a strategy meant to promote the development and reinforce the growth and competitiveness in Portugal, the Technological Plan is based on three axes: knowledge, technology and innovation. Regarding the knowledge axis, it stresses the need to ‘qualify the Portuguese for the knowledge society, fostering structural measures which aim at enhancing the average qualification level of the population, implementing a broad and diversified lifelong learning system and mobilizing the Portuguese for the Information Society.’

Some of the initiatives being carried out under this strategy are:

  • The creation of the Portal do Emprego e Formação (Employment and Training Portal) – NetEmprego. This internet portal aims to mobilise the Portuguese individuals to the information and knowledge society. In November 2006, over 171.295 curriculum vitae were registered and more than 4.055 job offers were disseminated on-line.

  • The measure ‘to facilitate the use of computers at home by students’, also aiming to mobilise the Portuguese individuals to the information and knowledge society. This initiative aimed at stimulating students to use computers at home through the attribution of tax benefits to the students’ family – a deduction up to 250€ in the family’s taxable income, in the acquisition of a computer up to 500€.

  • The creation of centres for recognition, validation and certification of skills. The strategic aim of this measure is to promote life-long learning though the simplification of the procedures to recognise, validate and certificate skills. Until 2006, some 220 centres were created, number above the target established for 2006: the creation of 165 centres. In September of 2006, 196 of those centres were fully operational.

5. Work life balance

In Portugal, both men and women present high rates of participation in paid employment – the activity rate of men is 69.4% and the female one is 55.6% (INE, Employment Survey (Inquérito ao Emprego), 2005). Female activity rates are particularly high among women who are more likely to have small children – 86.7% in the age group 25-34 years old and 82.9% in the age group 35-44 years old (INE, Employment Survey (Inquérito ao Emprego), 2005).

Moreover, a European comparative analysis (Rubery, J. et al, 2002) has shown that marriage and motherhood have a rather low impact on the female employment rate in Portugal, much lower than in other European countries.

On the other hand, full-time work is predominant either among men or women - 93% and 83.8%, respectively (INE, Employment Survey (Inquérito ao Emprego), 2005). This goes along with long working times – 71.1% of the workers and 61.3% of female workers have a weekly working time longer than 40 hours (INE, Population and Housing Census (Recenseamento Geral da População e da Habitação), 2001).

The results of the Time Use Survey (Inquérito à Ocupação do Tempo) 1999 evidence that the number of hours allocated to paid work by employed men and women is not very different: 9 hours 11 minutes compared to 8 hours 4 minutes, respectively, in an average day. However, there is a large unbalance in terms of the time allocated to household and family care work: in average, employed men spend 1 hour 38 minutes/day in unpaid work compared to the 4 hours 7 minutes/day spent by employed women. (Perista, H., 2003)

The female overload in terms of working time is also highlighted by a recent study (Torres, A. C. et al, 2004). Portuguese women tend to cumulate full-time paid work and unpaid work, including care (for children and for dependent elderly).

In what concerns childcare facilities, they are clearly insufficient to cope with the working parents needs, within and beyond schooling hours. The occupation rates of childcare facilities are very high in Portugal (over 90%); most facilities are full, especially those for children up to three years old (OECD, 2004). Moreover, the official statistics regarding childcare provision show that coverage rates are still very low: the crèche and nannies net covered only 23.5% of the children aged up to three years old, in 2005. The pre school education net coverage rate is 70.6% in 2002 (DGEEP, Carta Social).

It must be underlined that most of childcare services and equipments are run by private agencies, with services with prices often unaffordable for many Portuguese families.

According to OECD (2004), there is some evidence that many Portuguese mothers consider their working schedule as one of the main reasons why they do not spend as much time as they wish with their children. As a consequence, children often stay home alone or have to stay with their mothers in the workplace. The development of the childcare network and the broadening of parents' variety of choice regarding childcare services are considered as a priority in the Portuguese case.

Another political priority should aim at the development of positive actions encouraging men, fathers in particular, to participate in unpaid family and care work, in order to promote work-life balance for women and men. However, this has not been specifically and clearly taken into account in the government or social partners’ agenda.

To what extent is public policy playing a role? What sorts of actions or initiatives have there been? Do gender or parenting policies play a particular part? Do these include childcare arrangements?

Through PNE, the Portuguese government assumed the compromise to implement a set of measures regarding work life balance. Under the priority “Promote equal opportunities between men and women in the labour market”, some guidelines are directly or indirectly related to this issue. Some of those mentioned are:

  • To promote the development of Equality Plans in companies and incentives to companies and other entities adopting measures which promote the equality between men and women and facilitate the reconciliation between work and family, namely through the use of flexible timetables, the part-time work or which create childcare facilities to their workers.

  • To stimulate the growth of the supply of family support services;

  • To adapt the school timetables to the families needs within the organisation of the basic schools and pre-school establishments;

  • To deepen the social dialogue and the sensitivity of social partners regarding the reanalysis of the collective agreements content, in a gender perspective and within the frame of the re-dynamisation of the collective bargaining;

  • To develop information and sensitisation campaigns, namely through the media, and training actions, in order to develop an equal opportunities culture. These campaigns should be directed to the society in general and companies in particular;

  • To improve the training referentials in the equality domain, namely through the inclusion of a training module about this issue in all the training courses financed by public funds.

According to the contribution of a trade union confederation to PNE, to promote equal opportunities between men and women and, most of all, to reinforce the re-conciliation between work and family demands, should aim not only to the extension of the timetable in the 1st grade schools but also in the childcare facilities in order to avoid the “forced departure from the labour market”, a situation that most affects women. (UGT – General Union of Workers (União Geral de Trabalhadores), Contribution to PNE, October 3rd, 2005).

Work life balance is also an issue clearly taken into account within the PNE’s priority nr. 18 – ‘to promote an approach of work based on the life cycle’ in a measure which aims to:

‘Promote equal opportunities between men and women in the labour market, in a transversal perspective, reducing the gender differences in the employment, unemployment and wages, the sectoral and occupational segregation and favouring the reconciliation between the professional activity and the private and family life.’

Mention should also be made to the Prémio ‘Igualdade é Qualidade’ (‘Equality is Quality’ Prize), awarded since 1999 by the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment (Comissão para a Igualdade no Trabalho e no Emprego), a national tripartite body. The ‘Equality is Quality’ Prize is awarded to businesses and employers which pursue exemplary policies regarding equality between men and women, in particular in terms of work-family re-conciliation.

A small private non-profit association dedicated to social inclusion through arts and a large company from the construction sector were two of the five organisations awarded with the ‘Equality is Quality Prize’ in 2006.

The private non-profit association was awarded because it is clearly oriented to the promotion of equality between men and women. For instance, it has a commission for equality constituted by employees of different departments, which deals with all the staff related problems. It also promotes training modules on gender equality for the association users and for the staff itself.

The construction company was awarded, among other reasons, due to its practices related to the promotion of the work-life balance of its workers, such as:

  • An agreement with schools and childcare services, located near the company headquarters, which facilitate the attendance by the workers’ children;

  • The coverage of a fraction of the parents’ expenses with those equipments;

  • Free transport for the children, from the company’s premises to schools and childcare equipments.


Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, Acordo sobre a Reforma da Segurança Social ( Agreement on the Social Security Reform), Conselho Económico e Social, Lisbon, 2006. Available at:

DGEEP, Plano Nacional de Emprego 2005 (National Action Plan for Employment), Ministry for Labour and Social Solidarity (MTSS), Lisbon, 2005. Available at:

Dornelas, A. (coord.), et al, Livro Verde sobre as Relações Laborais (Green Book on the Labour Relations), Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade Social, Lisbon, 2006.

General Confederation of Portuguese Workers – National Intertradeunion, Declaração da CGTP-IN sobre a reforma da Segurança Social (CGTP-IN statement on the Social Security Reform),

OECD, Babies and Bosses. Políticas de conciliação da actividade profissional e da vida familiar, DGEEP, 2004. Available in English: OECD, Babies and Bosses. Reconciling work and family life, (volume 3): New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, OECD, 2004.

Perista, H., Time, paid and unpaid work in Portugal – A gender issue, working paper no4, Centre for the Study of Law & Policy in Europe, University of Leeds, 2003.

Plano Nacional de Acção para o Crescimento e o Emprego 2005/2008 (National Action Plan for Growth and Employment 2005/2008), Estratégia de Lisboa – Portugal de Novo (Lisbon Strategy – Portugal Again), 2005. Available at:

Torres, A.C. (coord.), Silva, F. V., Monteiro T.L. and Cabrita, M., Homens e mulheres entre família e trabalho, (Men and women between family and work in Portugal), CITE, Lisbon, 2004.

Websites (‘Gender profile’ database, in Portuguese) (‘Equality is Quality’ Prize, in Portuguese) (Technological Plan site, in Portuguese and English)

Annex – Country data

Place of work and work organisation EU27 PT
q11f. Working at company/organisation premises 72.8 86.4
q11g. Teleworking from home 8.3 2.1
q11j. Dealing directly with people who are not employees (e.g. customers) 62.4 62.8
q11k. Working with computers 45.5 35.1
q11l. Using internet/email for work 36.0 26.6
q20a_a. Short repetitive tasks of <1m 24.7 39.2
q20a_b. Short repetitive tasks of <10m 39.0 46.5
q20b_a. Working at very high speed 59.6 51.2
q20b_b. Working to tight deadlines 61.8 53.0
q21a. Pace of work dependent on colleagues 42.2 46.7
q21b. Pace of work dependent on direct demands from customers, etc. 68.0 64.9
q21c. Pace of work dependent on numerical production/performance targets 42.1 50.9
q21d. Pace of work dependent on automated equipment/machine 18.8 25.8
q21e. Pace of work dependent on boss 35.7 47.6
q22a. Have to interrupt a task in order to take on an unforeseen task 32.7 34.5
q24a. Can choose/change order of tasks 63.4 57.7
q24b. Can choose/change methods of work 66.9 66.3
q24c. Can choose/change speed of work 69.2 64.1
q25a. Can get assistance from colleagues if asked 67.6 49.2
q25b. Can get assistance from superiors/boss if asked 56.1 39.8
q25c. Can get external assistance if asked 31.6 14.1
q25d. Has influence over choice of working partners 24.2 18.9
q25e. Can take break when wishes 44.6 42.7
q25f. Has enough time to get the job done 69.6 74.9
q26a. Task rotation 43.7 28.4
q26b. Teamwork 55.2 46.4
q31. Immediate boss is a woman 24.5 26.9
Job content and training    
q23a. Meeting precise quality standards 74.2 81.6
q23b. Assessing quality of own work 71.8 76.0
q23c. Solving unforeseen problems 80.8 80.4
q23d. Monotonous tasks 42.9 49.9
q23e. Complex tasks 59.4 54.9
q23f. Learning new things 69.1 69.1
q25j. Able to apply own ideas in work 58.4 62.1
q27. Job-skills match: need more training 13.1 10.2
q27. Job-skills match: correspond well 52.3 62.5
q27. Job-skills match: could cope with more demanding duties 34.6 27.3
q28a1. Has undergone paid-for training in previous 12 months 26.1 15.1
Violence, harrassment and discrimination    
q29a. Threats of physical violence 6.0 4.4
q29b. Physical violence from colleagues 1.8 0.7
q29c. Physical violence from other people 4.3 3.7
q29d. Bullying/harassment 5.1 3.6
q29f. Unwanted sexual attention 1.8 1.8
q29g. Age discrimination 2.7 2.2
Physical work factors    
q10a. Vibrations 24.2 33.3
q10b. Noise 30.1 31.9
q10c. High temperatures 24.9 25.4
q10d. Low temperatures 22.0 19.3
q10e. Breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust, etc. 19.1 24.8
q10f. Breathing in vapours such as solvents and thinners 11.2 13.6
q10g. Handling chemical substances 14.5 14.4
q10h. Radiation 4.6 5.4
q10i. Tobacco smoke from other people 20.1 29.0
q10j. Infectious materials 9.2 8.3
q11a. Tiring or painful positions 45.5 57.1
q11b. Lifting or moving people 8.1 6.6
q11c. Carrying or moving heavy loads 35.0 37.0
q11d. Standing or walking 72.9 80.0
q11e. Repetitive hand or arm movements 62.3 74.2
q11m. Wearing personal protective clothing or equipment 34.0 41.4
Information and communication    
q30b. Consulted about changes in work organisation, etc. 47.1 27.5
q30c. Subject to regular formal assessment of performance 40.0 34.8
q12. Well-informed about health and safety risks 83.1 84.2
q32. Consider health or safety at risk because of work 28.6 31.4
q33. Work affects health 35.4 40.9
q33a_a… hearing problems 7.2 9.9
q33a_b... problems with vision 7.8 10.6
q33a_c... skin problems 6.6 5.2
q33a_d… backache 24.7 30.7
q33a_e… headaches 15.5 23.9
q33a_f… stomach ache 5.8 4.5
q33a_g… muscular pains 22.8 28.8
q33a_h… respiratory difficulties 4.7 7.8
q33a_i… heart disease 2.4 3.1
q33a_j...injury(ies) 9.7 9.3
q33a_k...stress 22.3 27.6
q33a_l...overall fatigue 22.5 26.7
q33a_m...sleeping problems 8.7 10.8
q33a_n...allergies 4.0 4.7
q33a_o...anxiety 7.8 13.6
q33a_p... Irritability 10.5 16.0
q35. Able to do same job when 60 58.2 45.7
q34a_d. Absent for health problems in previous year 22.9 13.5
q34b_ef. Average days health-related absence in previous year 4.6 8.6
Work and family life    
q18. Working hours fit family/social commitments well or very well 79.4 82.4
q19. Contacted about work outside normal working hours 22.1 19.6
ef4c. Caring for and educating your children every day for an hour or more 28.8 40.6
ef4d. Cooking and housework 46.4 51.6
Job satisfaction    
q36. Satisfied or very satisfied with working conditions 82.3 84.9
q37a_ef. I might lose my job in the next 6 months 13.7 19.3
q37b_ef. I am well paid for the work I do 43.2 28.6
q37c_ef. My job offers good prospects for career advancement 31.0 34.6
Structure of workforce    
q2d_ef. Seniority (mean years) 9.7 9.8
Working time    
q8a_ef. Mean usual weekly working hours 38.6 41.9
q8b. % usually working five days per week 65.1 71.6
q9a. % with more than one job 6.2 4.4
q13_ef. Daily commuting time (return, in minutes) 41.6 33.4
q14e_ef. Long working days 16.9 13.0
q16a_a. Work same number of hours each day 58.4 76.6
q16a_b. Work same number of days each week 74.0 87.2
q16a_c. Work fixed starting and finishing times 60.7 76.9
q16a_d. Work shifts 17.3 10.3
q17a. % with less flexible schedules 65.3 79.0

[2] UGT - União Geral de Trabalhadores (General Workers Union), CAP - Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal (Farmers of Portugal Confederation), CCP - Confederação do Comércio e Serviços de Portugal (Confederation of Portuguese Commerce and Services), CIP - Confederação da Indústria Portuguesa (Portuguese Industry Confederation), CTP - Confederação do Turismo Português (Portuguese Tourism Confederation).

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment

Click to share this page to Facebook securely

Click to share this page to Twitter securely

Click to share this page to Google+ securely

Click to share this page to LinkedIn securely