Two union leaders were arrested this week during a protest held outside the Prime Minister’s official residence, staged to demonstrate civil servants’ objection to their wages being slashed as part of Portugal’s austerity measures; meanwhile, as of this week civil servants across the country will see their pay checks decrease as the measures are implemented.
In September last year the Government announced that it intended to reduce the overall amount paid to civil servants by a total of five percent, which would be achieved by gradual cuts of between 3.5 and 10 percent from 2011.
The State Secretary for Public Administration estimated that around 350,000 civil servants would be affected by the cuts along with some 100,000 employees of the public business sector.
Even though civil servants do not usually receive their wages before the 20th of each month, some have already signed their receipts and noted a reduction in pay, which alerted them to the fact that the austerity measures were already being carried out.
On Tuesday this week around 300 people staged a two-hour protest, organised by the Common Front for Unions, outside Prime Minister José Sócrates’ official residence in São Bento, to show their opposition to their salaries being slashed.
While the two hour protest went without incident, tension mounted as it drew to an end and the demonstration moved to walk along a street in front of the PM’s residence.
At that point the police formed a cordon to stop the alleged ‘march’.
“If they had walked on it would have given the impression that the protest was still continuing down the street”, a police source told Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias.
The source explained that an order to stop was given three times, but was ignored.
Tension between the protestors and police escalated into pushing and shoving and culminated with the arrest of two union leaders, one for disobeying an authority, the other for resistance and coercion. The two men had an initial hearing in court on Wednesday this week.
One of the men arrested, José Manuel Marques, 42, head of the Local Administration Workers Union (STAL), faces charges of disobedience. His hearing was adjourned until January 31st at the request of his lawyer to better prepare his defence.
Marco Rosa, of the National Teachers’ Federation FENPROF, who was booked for resistance and coercion, emerged from his preliminary court hearing telling journalists he had “not been accused of anything” and will have his preliminary hearing on 2 February.
“The Public Prosecutor needs more time to find things to accuse me of”, he said.
Some witnesses and protestors claimed the police we too heavy handed and aggressive, though police sources have refuted these claims, saying they were only trying to prevent the safety barrier from being penetrated and had simply pushed people backwards.