Nurses affiliated to the Portuguese Nurses’ Union (SEP) have started a strike action demanding a rise in wages at par with employees in public administration. Nurses went on strike on November 17 and 18, but maintained emergency services. They have also announced a walkout on November 22 and 23. The nurses’ union has accused the Portuguese government of wage discrimination toward nurses. On Friday, November 18, nurses also joined the Common Front of Public Administration Unions in the general strike in the civil service sector, demanding increased wages, rights, and strengthening of public services and state’s social functions.
According to esquerda.net, SEP has demanded the Socialist Party (PS)-led government maintain wage equity with civil service graduates, which has existed since 1991. This year, the government had proposed a hike in the salaries of civil servants by valuing their career progression points retrospectively from 2018. Nurses were left out from this retrospective pay upgrade. SEP stated that a retrospective pay revision for nurses based on overdue career progression points from 2018 would amount to 5,000 to 12,000 euros (USD 5,162 to 12,388) per nurse. Under-payment and overwork have already forced many nurses in Portugal’s National Health Service (NHS) to abandon their jobs. Currently, countries across Europe including Portugal are facing soaring inflation.
Prior to the strike, SEP president José Carlos Martins said, “Nurses only want what’s owed them a long time ago. The nurses have a point. It is unreal and unacceptable that this Health Department only wants to pay nurses their retroactive fees starting from January this year. Because no nurse in this country accepts such disrespect, the fight will take to the streets.”
The Common Front of Public Administration Unions is also unhappy with the pay revision agreed to by the government in public services, and went for a general strike in the public service sector on November 18. It also extended support and solidarity to the nurses’ strike. According to the Common Front, the government has proposed a meager 3.6% increase in civil servant wages in the 2023 budget, which is paltry given the current inflation rate of 10.1%
Addressing a gathering during Friday’s general strike, Sebastião Santana, coordinator of the Common Front, stated that “workers across health care sectors are no longer accepting decades-long low wages. United workers have the strength to demand a different policy of valuing wages, careers and strengthening public services, from the government.”