The CGTP , the country’s largest trade union confederation, called a general strike Thursday as the economy plummeted and unemployment soared.
A deepening recession sent Portugal’s jobless rate to a record high at the end of 2011, new figures showed. The jump pushed unemployment in the last three months of the year to 14 percent, or 771,000 people. A wider measure that includes the underemployed and those who are not working but available to work shows the rate at over 20% or 1.16 million.
The economy has deteriorated rapidly following deep cuts to public spending and tax rises to comply with IMF-EU-ECB demands, and the government is committed to a new round of austerity measures as it seeks to meet economically suicidal fiscal goals.
The Portuguese Communist Party said: ‘The alarming and unsustainable situation these figures reveal confirms the disaster that the policies of the Government and the [IMF-EU-ECB Troika] Pact of Aggression is imposing on workers, the people and the country. These figures make it even more urgent to break with these policies, reject this pact and build a Left Patriotic Alternative.’
This surge in joblessness suggests an unemployment crisis could gather pace this year as economic activity contracts, say observers. The economy is forecast to contract more than 3 percent this year, the deepest contraction since the 1970s.
Fears hit Portugal in January that the country could be pushed to seek more bailout funding or even be forced to default on its debts like Greece. Rising unemployment could mean missing targeted reductions in the public deficit to 4.5 percent of economic output in 2012 from last year’s 5.9 percent as increasingly large numbers of people draw unemployment benefits.
Like elsewhere in southern Europe, the youth unemployment rate is sky high and rising, hitting 35.4 percent, up from from 30 percent in the third quarter.
The government appears to be banking heavily on hire and fire labour reforms to cut unemployment but even supporters of this policy admit it won’t have any impact on jobless figures any time soon and particularly while the economy is nose-diving.
The CGTP which, in contrast to the smaller UGT confederation, opposes the labour reforms called for a general strike on March 22.
“We call for a general strike … against exploitation and impoverishment,” CGTP secretary general Armenio Carlos said Thursday.
“This is a general strike about the rights of workers and the young generations,” Carlos said.
The strike is being called against austerity and the labour ‘reforms’, which include the abolition of several holidays and vacation days.
The strike call comes as officials from theTroika continue a two-week review of the economy, checking Portugal’s progress since last year’s 78 billion euros ($103 billion) loan.