Portuguese unions welcomed the decision by the country’s Constitutional Court to strike down four out of nine austerity measures in this year’s budget.
The court on Friday rejected cuts in pensioners’ and public servants’ holiday bonuses, as well as reductions to sickness leave and unemployment benefits, which formed part of a swinging austerity plan designed to comply with the demands of the IMF-ECB-EU ‘Troika’. This follows the court’s decision last year to block public-sector wage cuts.
Arménio Carlos, leader of the CGTP, the country’s largest trade union confederation, said: “This Government has lost political legitimacy, and the ethical and moral standing to continue its functions. As such, it has only one thing to do: resign.”
For the union leader, if the President failed to intervene, he would “become complicit in a process that is clearly leading the country into a situation of economic and social disaster.”
Joao Proenca, general secretary of the UGT union central, said the government had created this problem, and it “now has to solve it.” He called for measures that would stimulate growth expressing the hope that ‘in the future the Government will not aggravate the economic recession.’
The vice president of the National Federation of Physicians (FNAM), Mário Jorge Neves, hailed the court’s decision, saying that public sector workers had been “martyred in the last two years.”
Court resisted pressure from Government
“Fortunately, the Constitutional Court did not yield to the recent pressure by the Government in respect of these matters,” added Nobre dos Santos, coordinator of FESAP, a union for public sector workers.
For the president of the National Federation for Education, João Dias da Silva, the Constitutional Court’s decision demonstrates that the government of Pedro Passos Coelho made choices that “defied the Constitution and the rights of public sector workers.’
The Association of Retirees and Pensioners said the striking down of cuts to pensions was like a “punch in the stomach” of the government.
One organization representing ‘precarious’ workers said that “after huge demonstrations, the decision of the Constitutional Court is the bottom line for the government and for the ‘troika’. The Government…was paralyzed for weeks knowing that it no longer had popular support and no longer had political legitimacy to continue, but now we know that its policy is simply illegal.”
Decision restores minimum of constitutional legality
“The decision of the Constitutional Court is significant at a time of rising inequality and wage cuts hitting everyone,” argued José Reis, professor of economics at the University of Coimbra. ”It has restored a minimum of constitutional legality,” said the academic, who argued that the government “cannot afford to stay in power,” by maintaining a “monarchical style grip on power. The President [Cavaco Silva ] is part of the crisis itself and the political problem,” he added.
The Left Bloc opposition party said the court’s decision was not just a “red card shown to the government but also a yellow card shown to the President, who acted late and [in his actions] fell far short of what was asked and required of him.”
The Left Bloc said that “the source of Portugal’s entire social and governance crisis is the policy of the Memorandum and the troika, which emanates from the lack of legitimacy of a government that has no popular mandate for the austerity devastation” it has unleashed on the country.
Portugal is one of the poorest in the eurozone and has been mired in recession since it began to implement spending cuts and tax increases imposed as part of the €78 billion Troika ‘bail out’ in May 2011.