Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Portugal

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Portugal, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 10,700,000
Capital: Lisbon
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Widespread fears about the state of the economy provided the backdrop to the year, with many demonstrations against cuts in public services. The right to collective bargaining is limited in the public service.


Freedom of association is guaranteed in the Constitution and the 2009 Labour Code. There are no predetermined and precise criteria to evaluate the representativity of unions, but it is considered that only unions having a seat in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnership are representative. These unions are also referred to by name in law, which serves as an impediment to new trade unions. Although the right to collective bargaining is secured, bargaining in the public service is defined as "appraisal and discussion". Negotiations do not result in legally binding collective agreements, and can only concern pay and pay-related issues. Furthermore, where a situation is considered to be sufficiently grave, the government has the power to issue a ministerial order to bring a wide range of activities into temporary, obligatory public service, including pharmaceutical production and banking. Although not specifically regulated in law, political strikes are also prohibited.


Background: Politics in Portugal in 2010 were dominated by the state of the economy with the government seeking to reduce the budget deficit from its 2009 high of 9.3% whilst stimulating growth and employment. Widespread strikes took place in May. On 24 November the country's two largest trade union confederations, CGTP-IN and UGT-P, called a general strike two days in advance of the parliamentary sitting at which an austerity budget was adopted for 2011. At the end of the year the prospect of an EU-led bailout still hung over the country.

Anti-union climate: According to the trade union confederation UGT-P, labour and management relations at the company level are tainted by severe pressure on workers not to join a union, considerable interference in trade union activities, and fierce opposition to external trade union representatives.

Excessive definition of minimum services: The UGT-P reports infringements relating to the general strike on 24 November. When calling a strike in Portugal minimum services to guarantee vital social needs have to be agreed in advance. The decision of the arbitration court regarding the definition of minimum services to safeguard these needs was regarded as excessive in two cases: one relating to urban trains of Portuguese railways and the other to the SOFLUSA ferry company in Lisbon. In both cases the unions have appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Replacement of strikers: EDP (Electricity of Portugal) brought in external providers to carry out work during the November general strike. RTP (the government TV channel) similarly replaced workers with externally hired staff. The UGT-P affiliate in the energy sector (SINDEL) immediately complained to the Authority for Working Conditions, whilst its affiliate in the audiovisual sector (SMAV) plans to do so too. Both complaints focus on the definition of minimum service.

Breach of neutrality in Guarda: UGT-P has reported the director of the Social Security District Centre in Guarda to the Secretary of State for Social Security and the President of the Board of the Social Security Institute for sending an internal e-mail thanking all those workers who did not join the general strike on 24 November. The union believes the director breached rules of impartiality as their action implicitly reproached all those workers who used their legal right to strike.

Collective agreement rendered void in banking sector: The main trade union in the banking sector, SBSI (a UGT-P affiliate), reported a case that has occurred with the Portuguese Business Bank (BPN), which was nationalised during the financial crisis. A pre-agreement that had been reached at an earlier stage between the trade union and the negotiating group representing several banks, including BPN, was rendered obsolete after the government directed the bank board not to proceed with a wage adjustment.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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