Portuguese lawmakers support teachers over back pay claim

May 3, 2019

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s government was under pressure on Friday from a broad alliance of lawmakers to grant teachers salary increases held back over several years since 2005, a payout that could undermine efforts to balance the budget.

Wages for all of the country’s civil servants, including teachers, were frozen during the country’s debt crisis, a measure not reversed until last year.

With an economic recovery now gathering pace, the government has faced a wave of strikes and protests from teachers, nurses, teachers, police and prison guards in the past few months to press demands for pay hikes and better working conditions.

Late on Thursday, deputies from the Socialist government’s two leftist allies sitting on a parliamentary committee unexpectedly joined forces with the center-right opposition to vote in favor of activating increases for teachers that were of frozen between 2005 and 2007 and again from 2011 to 2017.

According to Finance Minister Mario Centeno, approving the measure could cost the country up to 800 million euros ($890 million) a year.

While the committee vote needs ratification by the full parliament, the broad support for it puts pressure on the government to act. A government spokesman said the cabinet would meet on Friday to consider its response.

Portugal is due to hold a national election in the autumn. Opinion polls suggest the Socialists, whose management of the economic turnaround has been a hallmark of their four years in office, are likely to win but may be just short of a majority.

The government presented a plan last month for public accounts to swing to a surplus from 2020 following a deficit of 0.2 percent of GDP this year.

In reference to that planned fiscal consolidation, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told reporters shortly before Friday’s cabinet meeting that “we have to guarantee the conditions to govern Portugal”.

(Reporting Bby Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; Writing by Axel Bugge; editing by John Stonestreet)

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