Portugal: Latest working life developments Q4 2018

Strikes in the public sector, the ending of a long-running strike involving dockworkers, and a new programme to promote a better work–life balance are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Portugal in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Public sector workers strike over wages and career progress

The last quarter of 2018 was marked by a wave of strikes in the public sector, including the first general strike since the Socialist Party minority government came to power in 2015. This strike was called by trade unions affiliated with both trade union confederations – the General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers (CGTP) and the General Union of Workers (UGT) – and aimed to put pressure on the government to include wage increases for civil servants into the 2019 State Budget (for the first time since 2009).

Several strikes were also called by public sector unions representing workers from specific industries. The largest and most prolonged was in the education sector, where teachers did not attend extra meetings or provide extra learning activities from 15 October to 31 December. The teachers argued that the almost 10 years of wage freezes should be counted towards their career progression, salaries and future pensions. The Ministry of Education offered to count 2 years and 10 months of service, but this proposal was rejected by the unions.

Following the government’s unilateral decision after prolonged negotiations with the unions failed, the President of the Republic vetoed the decree-law, arguing that the terms of the 2019 State Budget require negotiations with the unions to restart in 2019.

Dockworkers reach agreement after prolonged strike

Dockworkers at the Port of Setúbal went on strike between 5 November and 14 December 2018. This prolonged strike, which was related to the integration of precarious workers in regular contracts and a collective agreement, was organised by the dockworkers’ union, the Loggers and Logistics Activity Union (SEAL). Currently, only 10% of the jobs at the port are permanent, while 90% of the workers are hired and fired on a daily and casual basis. The strike paralysed the port, which ships raw materials and high value products such as the cars made at the nearby Volkswagen plant.

The strike ended on 14 December, after government-led mediation resulted in an agreement between the dockworkers, SEAL and the port operators. The agreement stipulated that 56 workers would be made permanent immediately, with a further 10–37 granted this status in a second phase. The agreement also guaranteed that priority would be given to current casual workers.

New programme for the reconciliation of professional, private and family life

On 5 December, the government launched the programme ‘3 Aligned – Programme for the Reconciliation of Professional, Private and Family Life 2018–2019’. The programme aims to promote a better work–life balance as a condition for gender equality and social inclusion. The programme has four sections:

1. (im)pact for reconciliation

2. reconciliation in public administration

3. facilities, services and incentives for reconciliation

4. knowledge for reconciliation. There are 33 measures in the programme, including the following:

  • to develop a pilot project for the adoption of measures to promote reconciliation in 47 organisations
  • to promote the debate, within the scope of social dialogue, on extending flexible working hours and working hours bank to workers with children aged under 12 or with children, regardless of age, with a disability or a chronic disease
  • to ensure that a father’s optional initial parental leave does not depend on a mother’s eligibility for parental leave
  • to increase a father’s initial parental leave period from 15 to 20 working days
  • to increase the initial parental leave period to up to 30 days, in cases where the child is hospitalised immediately after birth
  • to approve guidelines for collective labour regulation instruments that include measures to promote reconciliation, such as defining 2019 as the year of the promotion of reconciliation in collective bargaining.



The strikes in the public sector during this quarter are a legacy of the impact of the 2008 economic crisis. Workers are demanding an end to the austerity, eroded rights and breakdowns in collective bargaining that resulted from the crisis, while the government’s cautious response seems to be shaped by financial restrictions at European level. The case of the dockworkers is an example of how such strikes can be resolved in a positive manner, and it has also brought visibility and legitimacy to the fight against precarious work. The programme for reconciliation of professional, private and family life seems to be an important step forward in terms of the measures proposed and methodology of implementation. Future debate will clarify the terms and the size of the challenge.

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