Public transportation services were frozen and hospital staffs shrunk across Portugal Thursday amidst a nationwide strike due to the growing consensus amongst business and workers that austerity measures had reached their limit.
Strikes and protests are commonplace in Portugal since the government of Prime Minister Pedro Coelho took over during mid 2011 implementing austerity measures with the hope of controlling the spiraling deficit of the country under a $101.5 European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund bailout.
Since April, the protests and strikes have intensified following the announcement of even more spending cuts, including fresh layoffs and an increase in working hours for the public sector over the next three years in order to maintain the deficit in the country on target.
Thousands of schoolteachers, last week, walked out on final exams at secondary schools, which left may students unable to complete their tests. Even businesses have joined in and during the earlier part of this week urged government officials to lower taxes, saying they are suffocating companies and consumers.
Under Portugal’s bailout program, the government of Coelho has increased sales and income taxes, reduced public sector salaries and lowered spending in education and health.
While these budgetary controls and reforms were meant to make Portugal more competitive and expected to take Portugal multiple years of little growth, the recession has continued with high unemployment.
In the past two years, the economy in Portugal has contracted by 4.8%, while the unemployment rate has increased to more than 17% from 11% in 2010.
This year economists believe the country will shrink another 2.3%, a contrast of more than 1.2% from what international creditors had expected when the bailout program was initiated more than two years ago.
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