Education International
Education International

Portugal: unions demand new social policy

published 22 March 2012 updated 23 March 2012

On 22 March, Portugal woke up to a general strike, supported by EI’s affiliate, Federaçao Nacional dos Professores (FENPROF). The devastating cuts to essential public services, including education, have essentially become an attack on the Portuguese people. Unions and civil society demand new social policy and a change in direction for the country.

Education budget cut

This year´s education budget has been cut by €1,500 million, adding to cuts of €800 million from last year. Portugal’s investment in education places it at the bottom of the pile in Europe, with a mere 3.8% of its gross domestic product.

These cuts are being made at the same time as the decision to increase obligatory school attendance by three more years. Without adequate investment, education unions claim it will be impossible to face these new educational challenges and provide quality education.

Eliminate contact hours

Unions also draw attention to the current curricula ‘structural reform’ that, they argue, follows two hidden objectives. The first is to eliminate around 10,000 in contact hours in order to save €102 million. The second is to limit education to three basic functions: reading, writing and numeracy, leaving aside subjects that contribute to a well-rounded education within the context of a genuinely democratic society.

The status of teaching staff has seriously deteriorated in the last two years due to the elimination of bonus pay, the increase in teaching hours, the reduction of salaries and pensions, the elimination of benefits, and so on. All this will result in a decrease of between 20-30% in teachers´ earnings over the next two years. This in no way reflects the increase in the cost of living over the same period.

Faith in the future

FENPROF General Secretary, Mário Nogueira, states that teachers cannot stand around waiting for the country to collapse. “If this isn´t the time to fight, when is?” he said. “When we get made redundant? When there is no way left to pay for our children´s studies, surgery to remove a tumour, our homes, or insurance and we have to turn to the banks to be able to eat? If we wait until then, the problem will be beyond repair.”

In spite of everything, Nogueira remains hopeful: “I have faith in the future, a better future, because it depends on us, on our determination, on our convictions, on the faith we have in ourselves. The future is something we will build together collectively with willpower, initiative and individual commitment. Everyone has their part to play. I still believe in people. “