Strike with No End in Sight

An unprecedented strike by teachers and non-teachers has been taking place across Portugal. After Tomorrow was approached by a number of concerned expat parents, we sent Natercia Godinho to talk to the teachers to address their concerns.

An unprecedented strike by teachers and non-teachers has been taking place across Portugal. After Tomorrow was approached by a number of concerned expat parents, we sent Natercia Godinho to talk to the teachers to address their concerns.

The strike has been organised by STOP (Sindicato de Todos os Professores), a syndicate of all teachers that has no affiliation to any political party. This is a historical event supported by academic staff, including some students and their parents who have been protesting across the country. This has caused disruption to many families who have to take time off work or find alternative childcare without any prior warning. 

Many parents are expressing concern that since Christmas, some children have only had one full day of school, others complain of a lack of teachers, and many more are concerned for the future of the children. Some schools may close completely if the government doesn’t negotiate with the educational staff.

To seek answers to parents’ concerns, I met with four local teachers: Miguel Gomes, Lena Marisa Soares, Antónia Manche and Luísa Magalhães. They began by explaining several factors that cumulatively have contributed to current strikes. 

In 2005, working hours increased without remuneration. The government then implemented methods of evaluation without any logical criteria. Then in 2008, in the opinion of Lena, “there was a massive campaign of lies by the government stating that teachers were earning too much money and so the public never supported our concerns.”

Subsequently, Troika (a time period given to Portugal to save and pay national debt back to the EU) affected the whole country. Miguel explained: “we all complied with the need to save money to pay national debts which were not caused by any of us but by banks, and so our salaries froze, our chances of promotion stopped, and worst of all, teachers were told not to complain or else to emigrate.” 

A teacher’s pay grade goes up with a system called escalões, which pits teachers against each other. Miguel, who has taught for 27 years and is close to retirement, has never reached the top of his career despite achieving good results with the children he taught. He finds this insulting for a career dedicated to the children in the community, with teachers often putting in extra hours to help children with special needs.

According to Luisa, past strikes have failed to meet the demands of teachers, and the final straw came when a new law passed recently devolved control of education to municipalities. Antónia explained that by decentralising education to local municipalities, teachers would be sent miles away from where they live, resulting in teachers having to find new accommodation, which, as we all know, is not easy to find, especially in the Algarve!

From Left to right: Antónia Manche, Luísa Magalhães, Miguel Gomes & Lena Maria Soares

This derives from an outdated belief that teachers should not teach in their home town because they could be open to favouritism to children they know and open to bribes from parents. What this means, in reality, is teachers have to uproot their own children and lives to live in another town.

All four teachers were keen to provide reassurance to parents that they too showed disappointment with the current state of affairs. Another complaint put to Tomorrow by parents was teachers’ high sickness level, leaving children without subject teachers for months and sometimes a whole academic year. The teachers told me that many of their colleagues are old and unwell and young people are opting for other careers; therefore, there is a shortage of teachers. 

Another gripe from the parent lobby is that during this period of strikes, they are required to take children to school every day so that they won’t receive a non-attendance mark, only to then be turned back home without any prior warning. Miguel explained that some teachers continue to choose to teach lessons; therefore, the student needs to show up as normal. However, some teachers choose to strike on the day, which is their right by law. Parents concerned with their children’s future education have proposed that teachers work through the summer to compensate for the loss of tuition, to which Miguel replied that teachers only have 22–24 days off a year. During holidays they are involved in paperwork and bureaucracy.

The unions are reporting that 100,000 teachers went to Lisbon to protest over the weekend, one of the largest strikes in history. This is denied by the government, who claims only 30,000 attended. Teachers have told me that the GNR stopped buses from the local schools in the Algarve on the way to Lisbon. It has been reported that teachers were fined for having food in their backpacks, apparently against the law! However, the strikes were peaceful with no violence and also attended by many students and parents who sympathised with the teachers’ grievances.

The government’s response to the strike has been almost silent. They have sought advice from Procuradoria-Geral da República as they doubt the strike’s legality. Until they have this ruling, they are refusing to enter into a dialogue with the teachers’ unions.

We can only hope that the government and educational representatives reach agreements to provide stability and confidence to everyone’s lives, above all to the children whose future is at stake. 

Information on the current strike with dates:

Main photo: Teachers protest in Lagos © Hugo Rocha


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