Angry but determined: Portuguese workers protest for better wages amid pandemic

LISBON (Reuters) – Thousands of workers gathered in towns and cities across Portugal on Saturday to demand higher wages and more government action to protect jobs threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

During peaceful protests, organized by Portugal’s largest umbrella union, CGTP, workers wearing masks and keeping a safe distance urged the country’s socialist government to increase the national minimum wage to 850 euros from the current 635 euros, the lowest in Western Europe.

“Workers’ rights are increasingly being stolen,” said Anabela Vogado, of the CESP union, as she walked towards Lisbon’s main square. “The fear of the pandemic cannot deprive us of our rights. “

Unemployment in Portugal topped 400,000 in August, according to the latest data, and is up by more than a third compared to the same period last year.

In the southern Algarve region, which depends heavily on tourism, the number of people registered as unemployed climbed 177% in August compared to a year ago.

“Why is there so much money to support (companies) with investments and moratoriums and then there is no political courage to prevent workers from being made redundant?” Said Luis Batista , a visibly angry worker.

The government, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa, has introduced several measures to help businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic, including state-guaranteed loans and the deferral of some tax payments.

It also introduced a leave scheme, allowing companies to temporarily suspend jobs or reduce working hours instead of laying off workers. But those who demonstrated on Saturday believe the measures were not enough.

“Our government mainly supports businesses and forgets workers,” said glassmaker Pedro Milheiro, who joined the protest in Lisbon to express his frustration. “More support is needed. “

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Editing by Christina Fincher

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