Portugal // Austerity against professional firefighters

Let us imagine a profession that requires you to be permanently available to perform such peculiar tasks as running into burning buildings and forests while carrying several dozen kilos of equipment on your back. A profession in which you deal with matters of life and death on a regular basis, in which you, a colleague or a stranger you couldn’t save, might become victims.

One would think that such professionals would at least receive dignified work and subsistence conditions. As all others who perform an indispensable social role. We are obviously talking about professional firefighters, but it could also be teachers, doctors, nurses, garbage collectors and street sweepers; all those who provide society with well-being, education and health.

In the eyes successive governments, these professions are nothing more than a mass of salaries requiring a good cut. What the State doesn’t provide in terms of work conditions, the workers are expected to provide in Christian ethic. Socially useful labor is seen as a privilege of those performing it, a sort of charity, making it undignified to even request better work conditions.

That is the reason why, on October 25, 2018, the Socialist Party government approved new regulations for professional firefighters, without consulting or meeting with unions, who represent most professional firefighters.

Briefly, the new regulations translate into:

  • The retirement age increases by 10 years, reaching 60. Think about people you might know aged 60 and imagine them climbing buildings to reach fires in progress during a 12 hour shift.
  • Over 1 400 training hours (the equivalent of 58 continuous days) for work that pays less than the minimum wage (580€), after the supplements for risk, encumbrance and permanent availability are discounted.
  • The end of career progression in practical terms. New remuneration positions have been created, but it is impossible to access them.
  • Positions fundamental to the normal operation of the organization are being eliminated to remove promotional possibilities.
  • Command positions that require no previous practical experience are being introduced. This creates the possibility of replicating the same command and responsiveness problems that other civilian emergency structures have suffered.

It’s transparent that the only intention behind these measures is to cut the salary of public workers and that they have nothing to do with the proper functioning of the institution. Afterwards, when the summer fires arrive, the professional firefighters will get their payment in Facebook likes and hugs in front of TV cameras, as they wander the hills doing their peculiar form of charity

This Monday 14 at 14:30, the professional firefighters are going to gather in front of the Ministry of Work on Praça de Londres in Lisbon.

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