Population: 10,600,000
Capital: Lisbon

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 5

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Unions led protests against austerity measures and the further restriction of workers' rights as a result of changes in economic policy and industrial relations. Union representatives in the transport sector were ordered to work during the general strike, and some employers drafted replacement workers. Other workers were actively discouraged from taking part. Aviation workers faced a unilateral cut in their level of union representation by the employer, and in January two public sector union leaders were arrested after a rally.


In April Portugal became the third EU country after Greece and Ireland to ask for a financial bail-out. The following month the European Union and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a 78 billion euro bailout package, but this was tied to severe spending cuts. One government had already had to resign in March after parliament had rejected an austerity package. In June the ruling Socialist Party lost the parliamentary elections, and the Social Democratic Party formed a coalition with the Popular Party. The government announced a package of measures to meet the bailout requirements in October, which was met with anger from the unions. In addition to cuts to pay and pensions, healthcare and education, workers would face longer working hours and potentially the loss of fundamental workers' rights such as the prohibition of unfair dismissals and the right to collective bargaining. The two main national trade union centres, the Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (CGTP) and the União Geral de Trabalhores (UGT-P), jointly announced a massive general strike on 24 November. Hundreds of thousands of workers took part. In general, the action was peaceful, although there were clashes over the definition of minimum services that unions are obliged to guarantee in key sectors. Earlier in the month the civil service unions had staged their own protests against the cuts, with 180,000 people taking part in a demonstration in Lisbon.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association is guaranteed in the Constitution and the 2009 Labour Code. There are no predetermined and precise criteria to evaluate the representativeness of unions, but it is considered that only unions having a seat in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnership are representative. União Geral de Trabalhadores (UGT-P) and the Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (CGTP). These unions are also referred to by name in law, which serves as an impediment to new trade unions, but is commonly accepted that only those have an effective national representativity. Since the 59/2008 Act, which came into force in January 2009, the collective bargaining framework changed in the public sector. The law is considered be the minimum standard and collective bargaining can only establish more favourable conditions on all subjects. Collective bargaining has a broader scope than in the past (similar to the private sector) and a larger number of workers are covered since negotiation is possible for all workers, for a profession/group of professions and for workers employed by the same public employer. These collective agreements are legally binding to the parties.

Furthermore, where a situation is considered to be sufficiently serious, 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 (with party-political objectives) are also prohibited.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

The impact of the debt crisis on trade unions:

A Tripartite Agreement was reached in March 2011 concerning growth and employment measures and the revision of some aspects of the labour code in relation to compensation in the case of redundancies and dismissals, as well as to collective agreements and lay off procedures. However, these labour law changes have not been implemented yet and further reforms of the labour code are foreseen for 2012 as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding. A new social dialogue process was initiated envisaging a broad scope tripartite agreement (on growth, competiveness and employment), in which the revision of the labour code was also up for discussion. This was a lengthy consultation process which was interrupted after the government made its announcement about increased working hours. Negotiations were resumed after the November general strike and a new comprehensive tripartite agreement on the subjects of Growth, Competitiveness and Employment was due to be signed in January 2012. The agreement also included a revision of the Labour Code. The UGT reported that it was the only trade union confederation with seat in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnership to sign the Agreement and did so in order to avoid the introduction of more punitive measures for workers, which are envisaged in the Troika Memorandum.

The crisis had a strong impact on collective bargaining. The number of signed collective agreements decreased from 230 in 2010 to 170 in 2011, and fewer workers (less than 170,000) were covered by the agreements.


Trade union leaders arrested, one charged:

Two trade union leaders and a number of activists were arrested on 18 January at the end of a national rally of 500 shop stewards and leaders from the public sector unions, held outside the Prime Minister's official residence in Lisbon. José Manuel Marques, of the Executive Committee of the STAL (National Union of Municipal Workers), and Marco Rosa, of the SPZS (South Zone Teachers' Union) and the Secretariat of FRENPROF (Federation of Teachers Unions) were arrested and taken to Calvário police station. Both were apparently aggressively handled by the police, and Marco Rosa was reportedly handcuffed during the almost three hours that the police held the two trade unionists. José Manuel Marques was charged with "disobedience".

The public sector unions' meeting had been called against the backcloth of increased anger against wage cuts, wage freezes, tax increases, cuts in benefits – together with sharp rises in the price of food, basic needs and commodities.

On 14 February a court acquitted José Manuel Marques of the charges against him.

Workers pressed to refuse to go on strike: SINDETELCO, the telecommunications workers' union, reported that the day before the 24 November general strike an employer in the printing sector sent their workers an e-mail claiming that the company would provide or pay for transportation so that the workers depending on public transportation could go to work. Furthermore, some employees were asked to change their holiday dates (previously established and authorised by the employer) so that the day of the strike could be considered a day of annual leave. Similar threats were also made in the banking sector, where senior managers tried to deter workers from going on strike.

Replacement of striking workers:

SINTAP (Public Administration Workers' Trade Union) reported that public sector workers taking part in the 24 November general strike, notably workers in a city council, were replaced by external service providers, which is prohibited by law.

SMAV (Audiovisual Media Trade Union) also reported a case of worker replacement at the RTP (the State-owned television station), which requested the services of an outsourcing company to replace RTP operations assistants taking part in the strike. The union informed the Authority on Working Conditions (ACT) of the situation.

Minimum services requirement abused:

The "Carris – Transportes Públicos de Lisboa" company assigned trade union representatives (expected to join the general strike) to provide minimum services, even though the ruling that establishes minimum services states that "resorting to strikers to provide for minimum services should only be done when the corresponding needs cannot be reasonably met through resorting to potential non-strikers".

The SNPVAC (Flight Crew and Civil Aviation Trade Union) reported that an employer ignored the union's proposal indicating the workers that were to ensure the provision of minimum services during the November strike, and unilaterally decided to call upon the employees via text messaging, a procedure that doesn't formally bind the workers concerned.

Employer seeks to reduce union representation in violation of collective agreement: The SNPVAC (Flight Crew and Civil Aviation Trade Union) also reported that an employer sought to change an agreement concerning the number of union representatives. The union had less trade union representatives than permitted by law (they were entitled to eight but at the time of the events reported had only seven) and a written agreement whereby an unlimited number of representatives could be appointed. However the employer claimed that the arrangement was detrimental, and said they intended to change the agreement in order to cut the number of representatives entitled to legal protection to a limit below the one established by law.

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