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The revolution in the public services sector

in Portugal: with or without the unions1

Alan Stoleroff*
STOLEROFF, Alan. The revolution in the public services sector in
Portugal: with or without the unions. Transfer – European
Review of Labour and Research, ETUI-IRES, v. 13, n. 4, 2007,
p. 631-652. Disponível em: <http://trs.sagepub.com/content/13/4/
631.refs>. Acesso em: 10 jun. 2013.

E Summary
Since the onset of the public deficit crisis in 2001-2002, three successive Portuguese
governments have promoted a transformation of public sector employment relations
with the aim of bringing them into line with the private sector. Given the importance
both of employment in the public sector and of public sector unions to the overall
labour movement, the outcome of these reforms will have a decisive impact upon
industrial relations in Portugal. The Portuguese public sector unions have consistently
claimed that the government has presented them with preconceived reform packages,
has not bargained and has in fact imposed its concept of the reforms. This article
analyses the relationship between the government and the unions in negotiating the
reforms, focusing on the degree of conflict involved and the extent to which the
reforms have proceeded within the framework of social dialogue.


F Sommaire
Depuis le début de la crise du déficit public en 2001-2002, trois gouvernements
portugais successifs ont encouragé la transformation des relations de travail du
secteur public dans le but de les adapter au secteur privé. Etant donné l’importance,
pour le mouvement syndical en général, à la fois de l’emploi dans le secteur public et
des syndicats du secteur public, les résultats de ces réformes auront un impact décisif
sur les relations professionnelles au Portugal. Les syndicats portugais du secteur
public ont reproché sans cesse au gouvernement de leur avoir présenté des réformes
préconçues, de n’avoir pas négocié et d’avoir en fait imposé sa conception des
réformes. Cet article analyse les rapports entre le gouvernement et les syndicats lors de
la négociation des réformes, en se concentrant sur le niveau de conflit existant durant

1 The research for this paper was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia within the project
‘Relações do emprego e mudança organizacional nas reformas na Administração Pública em Portugal: o
papel dos sindicatos e dos trabalhadores’. The project’s research assistant, Irina Pereira, prepared pre-
liminary versions of the tables on the phases of the reforms and the quantification of conflicts and pro-
vided welcome critical input to this version’s analysis.
* CIES/ISCTE, Lisboa, Portugal

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la négociation et l’évaluation de l’état d’avancement des réformes dans le cadre du

dialogue social.


D Zusammenfassung
Seit der Krise im Zusammenhang mit dem öffentlichen Defizit 2001-2002 haben sich
drei aufeinander folgende Regierungen in Portugal bemüht, die Beschäftigungs-
beziehungen im öffentlichen Dienst nach privatwirtschaftlichen Kriterien zu refor-
mieren. Angesichts der Bedeutung der Arbeitsplätze im öffentlichen Dienst und der
wichtigen Rolle der Gewerkschaften des öffentlichen Dienstes für die Arbeiter-
bewegung insgesamt wird das Ergebnis dieser Reformen entscheidende Folgen für die
Arbeitsbeziehungen in Portugal haben. Die portugiesischen Gewerkschaften des
öffentlichen Dienstes haben der Regierung immer wieder vorgeworfen, sie habe
vorgefasste Reformpakete unterbreitet und nicht verhandelt, und somit ihr eigenes
Konzept der Reformen auferlegt. Der Autor untersucht die Beziehung zwischen
Regierung und Gewerkschaften bei der Verhandlung der Reformen und befasst sich
insbesondere mit der Frage, wie stark die Konflikte dabei waren und inwieweit die
Reformen im Rahmen eines sozialen Dialogs durchgeführt wurden.


Keywords: public sector unions, civil service reform, social dialogue

A ‘revolution’ has been taking place in employment relations in the Portuguese public
sector. Since the onset of the public deficit crisis in 2001-2002, three successive
Portuguese governments have promoted the transformation of public sector employ-
ment relations as a component of a reform of public administration. On a par with the
revision of labour legislation and its compilation within a more ‘flexible’ general Labour
Code, this reform has been an important front in the general state-led transformation
of Portuguese industrial relations since the turn of the century. The present Socialist
Party (PS) government’s project is to bring about a convergence of the public sector
model with the private sector model, thereby integrating the reform of public adminis-
tration with the changes in employment regulation as a whole.

Given the importance of employment in the public sector and of public sector unions
to the overall labour movement,2 the outcomes of this reform will have a decisive
impact upon industrial relations in Portugal.

2 The public sector unions are a remaining bastion of Portuguese organised labour and have consistently
increased their representation and political importance in the overall structure of Portuguese trade
unionism (Stoleroff and Naumann 2001).

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The unions generally view the reform of public administration as an extension of efforts
to deregulate and flexibilise employment relations as a whole. Throughout the pro-
tracted negotiations of the reform, the public sector unions have reacted to the govern-
ment’s proposals by drawing defensive lines to protect a pattern of service born from
an earlier period’s ‘effort bargain’ and to mitigate the instability and deregulation that
they fear could be its result. Above all, the unions have sought to be effective inter-
locutors in the conception of institutional and organisational change.

The objective of this article is to analyse the relationship between the government and
the unions in the process of negotiating the reforms. The article therefore examines the
degree of conflict involved and the extent to which this reform has proceeded within
the framework of social dialogue.

Social dialogue and the reform of public sector

employment relations

Employment relations within the public administrative and service sector in Europe
have long been undergoing restructuring (Treu 1987; Bach et al. 1999; Pitschas 2003).
These efforts have derived from changing conceptions of the welfare state, associated
with the decline of Keynesianism and Fordism and the rise of the ‘neoliberal’ agenda
(‘less state, better state’) as well as from fiscal pressures (Lash and Urry 1987; Ferner
1994; see Jacobi and Kowalsky 2002 regarding the European Union; see Upchurch
2003 on the United Kingdom).

Public administration has been characterised by highly developed patterns of bureauc-

racy (Weber 1984) and the approach to state restructuring has therefore, to a large
extent, coupled anti-bureaucratic theories of organisational remodelling and human
resource management (Storey 1992). Typically, the break-up and privatisation of serv-
ices or their management and outsourcing have been accompanied by policies aimed at
reducing employment and general labour costs and by individualised performance
evaluation and merit-based promotion and pay. Altogether this constitutes what
Marsden (2004) has referred to as a renegotiation of the established ‘effort bargain’
that had underlain the previous model of public sector employment relations.

In many European countries, however, government efforts to bring about such change
in the civil service and public sector employment have come up against the resistance
of the sector’s specific institutional traditions that distinguish its employment relations
from those of the private sector (Ozaki 1987a, 1987b; Lane 1995, 1997; Heady 1995;
Auby 1998). Legal norms, such as statutes that regulate civil service employment and
provide special employment protection, political orientations for maintaining public
sector employment and union presence have protected public sector employment and
have limited the introduction of flexibility (Bridgford and Stirling 1994: 61-66;
Gonçalves 1997).

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The neoliberal paradigm for the reform of public administration is problematic in that
it increases insecurity and pressure upon employees while much of its success depends
upon the cooperation of workers with new schemes of human resource management.
Is it possible to reduce the size of the public labour force and its cost, increase produc-
tivity and improve quality of services without demoralising workers through excessive
intensification and pressure? Such cooperation will require new forms of consent and
motivation amongst workers. Clearly, the manner in which governments accomplish
the reforms, whether or not they are brought about with the understanding of public
sector employees, will have an impact upon whether they succeed or fail.

Due to the generally high level of unionisation in the public sector, the unions are a
fundamental factor for the achievement of the proposed reforms of public administra-
tion through their roles in social dialogue and collective bargaining. The unions are
mainly and legitimately motivated by the goals of protecting the employment of their
constituents and, due to the complex occupational structure of public administration,
they are also influenced by strategies for the defence of occupational and professional
interests that relate to particular categories of staff. Various components of public sec-
tor reform, namely, the liberalisation of conditions of job transfer or dismissal, per-
formance-based promotion and merit-based differentiation, collide with the traditional
perspectives of unions. However, unions have a fundamental interest in the reregula-
tion of the new employment relations emerging in the public sector. The question is
whether governments will seek to conceive and implement these reforms in collabora-
tion with the unions or against them.

This question becomes even more important given the European discourse to bring
about reform through social dialogue, especially within the context of the Lisbon strat-
egy. The context of public administration reform is a test of this concept of social dia-
logue and involves fundamental problems of legitimation. Does the concept of social
dialogue within the European social model hinge upon its substantiation in negotiation
as an open process in which the employer, in this case the state as represented by the
government, makes a good faith attempt to include the representatives of employees,
in this case the unions of the public sector, within the conception and design of the
measures that have an impact upon employment relations? Or is social dialogue merely
a limited notion of consultation, without necessary consequences in negotiation?3 Of
course, social dialogue also depends upon the openness of unions, but it needs to be
asked to what extent governments are willing to involve the unions in the very concep-
tion of the reforms before presenting them with technocratically devised projects for
them merely to negotiate details.

This article obviously does not pretend to be a brief in support of the claims of the
unions involved but is rather concerned with the problem that stems from the

3 Vos (2007) asks whether the increasing concern of European governments with financial and economic
goals will bring about the practical decline of the European social model and the role of social partner-
ship and dialogue and quality of industrial relations as prescribed in the Lisbon strategy.

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consistent claims on the part of the Portuguese unions that the Portuguese govern-
ment has basically presented them with preconceived reform packages, has not bar-
gained and has in fact imposed upon them its concept of the reforms. This simple
observation poses a significant problem within the context of the compromises of the
Portuguese government with the social dialogue discourse that accompanies the
Lisbon strategy.

The general context and the measures of public sector

reform in Portugal

As can be seen in Table 1, employment in the Portuguese public administration has

consistently and significantly increased since 1979. According to the census of the
Portuguese public sector, there were 716 418 public sector employees in 1999 (DGAP).
This represented 14.8% of the employed population in Portugal. The most recent
census reported in the Database of human resources in the public administration
counted 737 774 employees at the end of 2005, an increase of over 30 000 in six years.4
Of these, 568 384 were employees of the central state administration, another 130 650
were employees of municipalities and local administration and still another 38 740
were employees of the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira.

Table 1: Evolution of employment in Portuguese public administration (1979-2005)

Year 1979 1983 1986 1988 1991 1996 1999 2005
Employees 372 086 435 795 464 321 485 368 509 732 685 469 716 418 737 774
Source: Direcção Geral da Administração Pública (http://www.dgap.gov.pt/0abert/dgapmf_site.htm).

According to OECD and Eurostat, public sector personnel costs as a proportion of

GDP increased consistently from the 1990s from 11.01% in 1990 to 14.55% in 2000,
that is, an increase of 3.54 percentage points. Although public administration employ-
ment in Portugal is a much lower proportion of total employment as compared to other
European states (17.9% in 2004), Portugal has the highest proportion of GDP dedi-
cated to public sector personnel costs for the European Union (14.7% in 2002).5

Portugal’s integration within the European Monetary Union (EMU) signified an unwa-
vering commitment to the parameters for maintaining state deficits within the 3% limit.
However, in the circumstances of growing demand upon the weak and poor welfare
state system throughout the 1990s and early 2000s and increasing expenditure with a
growing force of state employees to provide public services and administer the state,
Portugal exceeded the restrictions of the EMU and was faced with a deficit crisis of
growing proportions. With the onset of the deficit crisis in 2001-2002, demands for

4 See DGAP (http://www.dgap.gov.pt/0abert/docs/BDAP_ficheiros/Apresentacao-BDAP.pdf).

5 According to data from the Ministry of Finances, the containment of spending since 2001 has decreased
public sector personnel costs as a proportion of GDP from 14.7% in 2002 to 13.5% in 2006.

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restructuring and downsizing the state and cutting back public sector labour costs took
central stage in governance. The deficit crisis then became the fundamental context for
the reform of public administration.

The centre-right coalition governments (2002-2005) initiated state retrenchment in a

hesitant and stop-go manner, threatening painful cuts, but pretty much stopping short at
austerity and institutional-organisational restructuring. Those governments introduced
measures aimed at reducing spending through the reorganisation of ministerial and other
services, especially through the abolition of a large number of public institutes and other
state entities, strict restriction of hiring and entry into public sector employment and
increased flexibility in inter-ministerial and inter-departmental transfer of employees in
order to create mobility within the public administration (see Figure 1). However, the
centre-right governments had given practical priority to the revision of general, that is,
private, labour law, investing their major political resources in the passage of a general
Labour Code that incorporated a variety of measures that, amongst other things, would
liberalise dismissals and destabilise the collective bargaining status quo.6

The balance sheet of the centre-right governments was nevertheless important. In particu-
lar these governments initiated – though did not implement – the programme for indi-
vidual performance evaluation of public sector employees known as the Integrated System
of Performance Evaluation (SIADAP). This evaluation programme was intended to put
an end to promotion of public sector employees on the basis of automatic progressions
which involved only very superficial and ritualistic procedures of individual evaluation.

Figure 1: Phases in the negotiation of the reform 2002-20077

Government 2002-2005 (XV and XVI government – PSD/CDS-PP)
Phases 1st phase 2nd phase 3rd phase
April/2002 June/2003 July/2004
June/2003 June/2004 March/2005
Principal reform Freezing of hiring Extension of individual Introduction of new
measures introduced by through fixed-term contract to state forms of hospital
the government and contracts employment management
object of conflict with Creation of the pool of Integrated System of
unions supernumeraries Performance Evaluation
Introduction of new (SIADAP)
forms of hospital Alteration of rules for
management retirement within public

6 The revision of labour legislation and the proposed Labour Code were seen by the unions as a serious
threat to labour protection. In 2002 the Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (CGTP)
organised a general strike in opposition to the government’s labour project. Although several clauses
were modified in the subsequent final version of the Labour Code, the general strike, which mobilised
hundreds of thousands of workers, was largely to no avail due to the existence of a parliamentary major-
ity in favour of the measures. The new Labour Code was approved in December 2003.
7 The phases are identified here by the order in time of the presentation and negotiation of the govern-
ment’s proposals.

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Government 2005-2007 (XVII government – PS)

Phases 1st phase 2nd phase 3rd phase 4th phase
March/2005 March/2006 July/2006 January/2007
March/2006 July/2006 January/2007 June/2007
Principal reform Freezing of careers Special mobility - Revision of the System of
measures and promotions transfer Statute of the Contracts, Careers
introduced by the Alteration of rules Programme of Teachers Career and Pay (SVCR)
government and for retirement Restructuring the (ECD) SIADAP
object of conflict within public Central Special mobility -
with unions service Administration of transfer
the State

The present Socialist Party government was elected in 2005 with a vague mandate but
an absolute majority, reproducing political conditions for effecting political change as
had not been known in Portugal since the successive electoral majorities of the Social
Democratic Party (PSD) governments under Cavaco Silva in 1987-1994. Nevertheless,
the PS had stipulated in its programme the goal of reducing public administration
employment by 75 000 within its four-year mandate through attrition (substitution of
only one new recruitment for every two employees who leave) and not through dis-
missal. In pre-election promises the PS candidate for Prime Minister, José Socrates,
promised that the reforms of the sector would not be against the workers and that the
party would review the previous government’s transfer/mobility measures and other
reforms through social dialogue.8 The PS also affirmed its desire to continue with the
reform of the public administration through modernisation and qualification and its
commitment to the SIADAP project of performance evaluation and management by
objectives initiated by the previous governments.9 Upon taking power the PS govern-
ment was however confronted, and in turn confronted the country, with the gravity of
the country’s financial situation. The crisis was made explicit by the report of the Bank
of Portugal which foresaw a deficit on the unsustainable order of 6.8%.

Initially the aims of the government were to continue the reforms of the previous gov-
ernments, namely the reduction of the number of public sector employees and merging
and abolishing services as well as applying the merit-based scheme for promotions.
However the outbreak of the deficit crisis almost immediately established a context of
urgency for cost reduction in public administration which had public sector employ-
ment and employment relations as one of its focal points.

Thus the ‘reform of public administration’ has come to integrate measures aimed at
decreasing employment and labour costs through organisational rationalisation as well

8 The PS programme also promised the creation of 150 000 new jobs in the Portuguese economy by 2009.
9 See interview with Correia de Campos in Jornal de Negócios, 25 January 2005. In this interview as PS
spokesperson, the future Minister of Health tellingly claimed that it is a matter of indifference whether
public service is provided by the state or the market, citing outsourcing as an example of an effective
method of provision. With regard to future wage and salary increases, he raised the possibility of substi-
tuting uniform raises with selective merit-based rewards.

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as individualisation and differentiation of employment conditions. Due to the deficit

crisis, these changes are taking place within a context of strict austerity, involving wage
and salary constraint and freezes in promotions and career advancement, increase in
charges and fees for public services and an increase in the retirement age (as well as
cutbacks in public investment and the state budget as a whole). The restructuring of the
social security system has been relevant to austerity in that it involved both a rise in the
retirement age and decreases in pensions as well as a reduction of the public workforce.
The government has stepped up efforts to overhaul the major institutions of public
service delivery since these are major contributors to the overall state deficit. Finally
the government has challenged many of the ‘special statutes’ which regulate employ-
ment relations amongst the corporations and professions of the civil service. As a result
employment and labour issues have been caught up in reform projects that the govern-
ment is implementing in specific sectors of public services, namely public education and
the public health service.

Under the present Socialist government the reform has involved a phased negotiation
process articulating three main reforms. The main link in the new paradigm is the
association of career advancement in all its fundamental aspects, including remu-
neration, with individual performance evaluation. This link has implied a redefinition
of the contractual relation between the state and the public servant and has been
translated into legislation which has converted the contractual status of the civil serv-
ant into an individual employment contract within the public sector. The consequence
is that job security has become linked to performance evaluation and organisational
needs and budgetary resources. The reform has permitted a centralisation of human
resource management going beyond the boundaries of each ministry or division or
department such that surplus labour in one functional area may be put at the disposal
of the state as a whole through the transfer of available employees. Supernumeraries
available for transfer have been subject to new conditions in order to retain their
employment. The risk of dismissal has thereby been introduced into public sector
employment and the underlying concept of lifetime employment in public service has
been undermined. The three main reforms proposed to the unions by the Socialist
government are summarised below.

1. Introduction of systematic individual performance evaluation at all levels of public

sector employment as basis for career development
The Integrated System of Performance Evaluation (SIADAP) was introduced by the
previous governments but it is the foundation for the legislation regarding careers and
promotions put forward by the Socialist government. The SIADAP involves the appli-
cation of ‘management by objectives’ to the ministries and accessory entities and agen-
cies of public administration. Objectives are to be established at the ministerial organ-
isational summit and quantified as objectives for divisions, departments, sections, etc
and converted into task objectives for individual employees upon which individual
evaluation of performance can be based. Such evaluation is to be the basis for indi-
vidualised performance reward and promotion, the renewal of contracts and definitive
nomination to the civil service. This evaluation is also the basis of the nomination and

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promotion of top level supervisors and managers. In accordance with the legislation,
evaluation has three components: 1) individual contribution towards the fulfilment of
objectives, 2) behavioural competencies and personal characteristics involved in the
performance of a job, 3) personal attitude and interest motivation.

2. Organisational rationalisation and restructuring and employment mobility

The Programme of Restructuring the Central Administration of the State (PRACE)
involves a comprehensive reorganisation of central ministerial services and regional,
sub-regional and local services as well as functional decentralisation. Its basic principles
are ‘transversalisation’ of services (elimination of functional replication within minis-
tries and creation of shared services between ministries), and concentration to avoid
structural decentralisation. The precise measures involve integration or abolition of
organisational entities throughout the state – although the programme identifies serv-
ices to be maintained and the transversal services to be created.10 As presented the
PRACE involves the abolition of 187 state entities, which will pass from 518 to 331.

As a consequence of organisational restructuring further measures provide for

employment mobility: transfer of employees between services, departments and min-
istries and transfer of employees who are released from a specific service as a conse-
quence of organisational rationalisation, negative evaluation or inadaptability to the
ranks of the ‘unemployed’, that is, those available for transfer to another service. The
creation of a pool of surplus and available employees for such transfer between enti-
ties (Quadro de Mobilidade Especial) serves this function. The legislation allows for
employees who have either failed in evaluation or whose service has been reorganised
(abolition or integration) to be placed in the pool of surplus personnel in order to be
either transferred to other services according to demand and qualification or to suffer
a gradual phasing out. Placement in this pool can eventually lead to dismissal. The
legislation stipulates reduction in salary as a function of time on the list of the transfer
pool. For the first two months within the pool the employee will continue to receive
full salary; from the end of the second month, the employee’s salary will be reduced
to 88.3%; if not transferred and from the second year on, the salary will be propor-
tionately decreased to two-thirds of last salary (minus the deduction for pension
fund). At this final stage the employee may accumulate this salary with wages obtained
in the private sector.11

3. Forms of employment contract, civil service status and career and salary norms
The System of Contracts, Careers and Remuneration (SVCR) is a comprehensive
package of measures incorporating the three components of the overall reform: the
specific mechanisms for the reforms referred to above as well as further measures for

10 See DGAP (www.dgap.gov.pt/docs_down/RCM39-2006.pdf?.

11 The measures of ‘Special Mobility’ within the reform are one of the major sources of contention with all
the unions. In general the unions claim to approve the principle of organisational rationalisation with two
fundamental reservations: they are against disemployment (i.e. any form of public sector lay-offs) and
involuntary transfer and they demand to be consulted and to participate in the formulation of regulations
for the personnel impacts of restructuring.

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bringing the status of public sector employees into line with private sector employ-
ment relations and the reduction of career structures. With regard to the contractual
status of public sector employees, civil service status would continue to apply only to
those who exercise what are referred to as ‘sovereign functions of the state’ (magis-
trates, judges, diplomatic corps, police and criminal investigation and armed serv-
ices). These would be the only functions which would imply ‘nomination’ and as a
result the traditional form of tenure. The change to the regime of the individual
employment contract flexibilises the employment relation establishing the conditions
under which a public sector employee may be transferred (insufficient achievement
in performance evaluation) or dismissed (for being incapable of improvement in
performance or ‘serious and repeated violation of job duties’). With regard to the
structure of occupational careers the measures simplify, reduce and produce more
uniform career structures throughout the public sector according to generic occupa-
tional category without distinctions of functional area.12 The measures also reduce
the number of occupational categories and rationalise the occupational career-lines
within the public sector, and link promotion to performance evaluation rather than
time in service or seniority. With regard to remuneration, the measures introduce
individualisation consequent to evaluation and flexibility within the general pay
structure based upon decentralisation of budgetary and human resource manage-
ment (including recruitment and transfer of personnel) to directors of services and
departments and establish a universal and uniform pay scale to be applied across the
public sector.

The incidence of conflict in the reform of the public


We have chosen to look at the incidence of conflict as an indicator of the role of social
dialogue within the process of reform of public administration. This is not to imply that
social dialogue signifies the absence of conflict; on the contrary, conflict is the expres-
sion of divergence of interests and, in certain circumstances, may permit a realignment
of positions in order to advance joint resolution of a contested issue. However, even
without having a reasonable measure for what would be a ‘normal’ level of conflict, it
may be supposed that the frequency of specific forms of conflict and protest actions
will be indicative of the quality of the relations between the actors in the process of
negotiations. Nevertheless, for these reasons the analysis of the process of reform will
have to be complemented by a subsequent analysis of the interaction between the
unions and the government in order to determine whether the quantity and type of
conflict is symptomatic of social dialogue or of the inability of the actors to find
common ground within the negotiations.

12 In general the unions were not opposed to this component of the reform.

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Table 2 compares the two periods of government and the sub-sectoral location of
conflicts.13 The first period corresponds to the PSD/CDS-PP coalition governments and
the second period corresponds to the Socialist Party government.

In the first instance, there is a significant difference between the frequencies of strikes
in the two periods. There have been more than double the number of strikes in the
two-year period of the Socialist Party government than there were during the three
years of the centre-right governments. This is a clear indicator that the challenges have
been more acute in the latter period and it is in fact a measure of the determination of
the Socialist government to accomplish its reform programme. Such strikes have taken
place in diverse sub-sectors. Particularly noticeable are the appearance of significant
conflict within education in the recent period and the continuity of strikes amongst the
health occupations. By any standard of observation, the area of education shows signs
of serious conflict, especially since the teachers’ strikes have in almost all cases been
national strikes. The same may be said for health, although conflict within the National
Health Service has been significant over the two periods. The cause of such conflict in
education derives from the major revision that the Socialist government sought to apply
to the statute of the career of the teaching profession.

By their nature as a radical form of protest, the multiple occurrences of general strikes
of the public sector must be indicative of a generalised and serious degree of conflict.
Again, by any standard of evaluation, the frequency of sector-wide general strikes is
impressive as is the significant increase in this form of strike during the present period
of government. The comparison of the frequency of this type of struggle between the
two periods does not mean that there was more effective social dialogue in the previous
period; rather there were fewer serious challenges to the unions in the previous period.
Nevertheless, the previous period did experience this serious form of conflict through
several sector-wide strikes. Still, the shorter period of the Socialist government has
already experienced more than double the number of such strikes.

Table 2: Frequency of conflicts within the reform of public administration (2002-2007)

April/2002 to March/2005 March/2005 to May/2007
Type of mobilisation / professional sectors No Type of mobilisation / professional sectors No
Strikes (total) 14 Strikes (total) 38
General strikes of the public sector 3 General strikes of the public sector 7
Strikes in sub-sectors 11 Strikes in sub-sectors 31

13 This table results from an attempt to quantify the conflicts in the public sector in 2002-2007. It derives
from an analysis of a database of press clippings of the major daily newspapers and two daily economic
newspapers. While there are obvious limitations of this methodology for the purposes of precise coverage
of strike frequency, our intention here is merely to obtain an indication of the degree of conflict involved
in the reform. Official statistics from the Ministry of Labour do not permit such an analysis of strike
frequency in the public sector. Nevertheless, this method records most if not all incidences of strikes and
other forms of union action.

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Doctors 4 Doctors 3
Nurses 1 Nurses 5
Health (general) 1 Teachers 8
Civil servants of the health sector 1 Agriculture 3
(excluding doctors and nurses)
Justice (civil servants in the judicial system, 1 Justice (civil servants in the judicial system, 3
judicial police) judicial police)
Serviços de identificação (lojas do cidadão) 2 Defence (police) 3
Employees of the Ministry of Culture 1 Municipal employees 3
Employees of the immigration services 1
Employees of the diplomatic services 2
Demonstrations (total) 14 Demonstrations (total) 29
General demonstrations 5 General demonstrations 11
Demonstrations in sub-sectors 9 Demonstrations in sub-sectors 18
Health (general) 2 Doctors 1
De serviço/hospital 2 Nurses 2
Teachers 3 Teachers 5
Agriculture 1 Defence 6
Local administration 1 Local administration 4

The sources of government-union conflict in the reform

This analysis will centre on four explanatory factors: the characteristics of the trade
unions and their politics, the context in which the reforms have been negotiated, the
content of the reforms themselves, and finally, the pattern of interaction between gov-
ernment reformist protagonists and unions in the presentation and negotiation of
measures. The following discussion is not presented according to the order of impor-
tance of explanatory factors.

1. Characteristics of the trade unions and their politics: Public sector unionism is char-
acterised by the forms of fragmentation along political-ideological, regional and occu-
pational lines that characterise Portuguese unions in general (Stoleroff 2005).14
However, there are three main union actors involved in the negotiations with the gov-
ernment over the legislative proposals for the reform of the public administration; two
are coalitions and one is a go-it-alone union.

The largest grouping of unions, representing approximately 203 000 or more employ-
ees, is the Frente Comum (FC), a coalition of unions affiliated to the Confederação
Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (CGTP) which is made up of federations of

14 The data presented here regarding membership are derived from Stoleroff (2003).

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regionally demarcated general public sector employee unions, the national union of
local authority and municipal employees, regional teachers unions, the nurses unions,
a federation of doctors employed in public medical services and numerous other occu-
pational unions. The largest of these is the Union of Local Authority Workers (STAL)
which has over 50 000 members and the second largest is the Public Service Workers
Union of the South and Azores (STFPSA) which has over 40 000 members.

The second grouping is the Federação dos Sindicatos da Administração Pública

(FESAP), a federation of União Geral de Trabalhadores (UGT) unions, which has a
similar structure to the FC-CGTP based upon a general public sector employee union,
teachers unions and other occupational unions. About 46 000 workers are represented
by its unions.

Finally the Sindicato dos Quadros Técnicos do Estado (STE), while also affiliated to
the UGT, acts autonomously, outside of the FESAP, and frequently takes positions
contrary to those of the UGT federation.

There are also a significant number of independent unions, which may represent as
many as another 36 500 employees of a very mixed sort. Together these unions make for
a density rate of approximately 40%.

With regard to the special reforms being undertaken within specific sub-sectors, namely
education and health, the panoply of union actors, including independent unions, come
into play alongside the sectoral federations of unions affiliated with either the CGTP
or the UGT. In education, for example, the main union actors – the FENPROF of the
CGTP and the FNE of the UGT – negotiate with the Ministry of Education on specific
issues regarding employment relations within public education.

The evolution of union positions in relation to the reform is generally consistent with
the ideological and political alignment of the public sector union camps. The Frente
Comum, which is affiliated to the CGTP, is the most intransigent and adversarial of the
union camps. Its orientation has been based upon a defence of the social functions of
the state and the existing civil service model of public sector employment relations.15
Its ideological rejection of the conception of the reform has tended to politicise its
demands, leading to the formulation of demands on the basis of a generalised rejec-
tion of the proposed measures and abstention from defining specific negotiable
demands within the logic of the government’s legislative packages. Its tactics are gen-
erally symptomatic of a ‘maximalist’ strategy for union action, that is, an adversarial
approach to bargaining and recourse to mobilisation and strike action throughout the
course of negotiation timed to perceptions of opportunity. This approach is derived

15 Upon the announcement of the concrete measures of the PRACE, the FC accused the government of
intending to ‘privatize the most profitable public services of the public administration, namely the areas
of health, research, social security or education’. The union also referred to the PRACE as ‘a violation
of the rights of civil service workers’ and accused the government of, in reality, seeking to fire public
workers (Público, 1 April 2006).

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from the influence of certain sectors of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) within
the leadership of the CGTP and the FC in particular. Both its defensive position and
its approach to union strategy and tactics have significantly contributed to the degree
of conflict that has characterised the negotiation process.

The FESAP, on the other hand, conforms to the UGT’s orientation for social dialogue
and negotiation and has followed an approach of willingness to negotiate, to concede and
to moderate its recourse to strike action. This orientation is consistent with the ideologi-
cal disposition of the UGT leadership which is a coalition of trade unionists from the PS
and PSD, the governing parties that have led the reform. It has been open to consider
changes in the model of public sector employment relations. This makes it all the more
noteworthy that its leadership has made very critical assessments of the government’s
behaviour throughout the negotiation process and that it has participated in strikes.
Having accepted the differentiation of public sector employment contractual statuses
and the government’s proposal for careers and promotions, it was the first union actor to
arrive at formal agreements with the government over specific reform measures.

Oriented by a hard-nosed pragmatism, the STE has been willing to bargain but has also
mobilised its organisational resources in defence of its bottom-line positions. These
positions are defence of employment,16 defence of the statute of the civil service, oppo-
sition to quotas for promotion to higher classifications, defence of purchasing power of
members and the demand for good faith negotiation. It nevertheless also made signifi-
cant concessions and reached an agreement with the government over the SIADAP.

2. The context of deficit crisis and emergency: The sanctions and the threat of Portugal
losing its position within the EMU have been considered unacceptable risks by all the
governments under examination in this article. As already mentioned, in order to
reduce the labour costs of the public sector these governments have imposed rigid
austerity measures.

The PS government announced a first series of austerity measures including the freezing of
promotions, increase in retirement age from 60 to 65 years, and the convergence of the
public and private sector social security and health systems, towards the end of May 2005 as
the deficit crisis came to a head.17 The Pact for Stability and Growth (PEC) prepared for the
European Commission stated the goal of reducing spending on public sector employment
from 15.1% in 2005 to 13.8% in 2009, basically freezing growth in the public service wage
fund in real terms during the government’s mandate. The PEC contained a succession of
subsidiary austerity measures that significantly affected the interests of specific groups of
public sector employees (the end of the special retirement formula for professions such as

16 The STE for example has consistently opposed the transfer of functionaries to the pool of supernumerar-
ies. Following the reorganisation of the Ministry of Agriculture and the massive transfer of employees, it
has brought the state to court to seek injunctions for each case that it has been able to identify.
17 The government also froze the salaries and privileges of higher level public administrators. VAT was
increased from 19% to 21%. The employers feared a loss of competitiveness due to the tax increase but
in general only criticised the reforms of the state for not going far enough.

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nurses and police, new methods of payment of overtime for doctors in emergency room
service, restriction of additional payments for non-classroom tasks of teachers, etc). The
Prime Minister, Finance and Labour Ministers and their state secretaries made rhetorical
statements to the effect that measures would not be imposed but rather discussed with the
unions in the appropriate organs of social dialogue. Although the Prime Minister himself
assured the unions that reform measures in the public service would be as much as possible
the object of consultation within the institutions of social dialogue, the unions reacted nega-
tively fairly immediately to the announcement of the measures, protesting that the onus of
such austerity measures was unjustly placed upon public servants.18

Claiming that salary increases would require the reduction of public sector employ-
ment, the government carried austerity over into collective bargaining. The policy has
been to either freeze salaries or concede an increase significantly below the rate of
inflation as was the case in the bargaining rounds of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007.

The 2005-2006 annual bargaining round of the public sector was an impasse that exacer-
bated the sector’s conflicts following the imposition of austerity measures. Its start was
delayed until November (when by law it should have opened in September). Following the
wage demands of 5.5% by the FC and 3.5% by the UGT unions, the government
announced its intention to give a salary increase slightly above the expected 2.3% inflation
rate. At the start of bargaining the government simply refused the union proposals.
Subsequently, the Finance Minister announced that the government’s offer could not
exceed 1.5% saying, ‘We have gone as far as we can go. The government can not guarantee
employment and at the same time the maintenance or improvement of real wages.’ He
stated further, ‘I assume this policy as a national imperative and for this I am prepared to
assume the consequences that may arise. If there is more conflict I will be here to face it.’
(TSF, 28 December 2005) The unions accused the government of having violated national
legislation with the imposition of such a settlement, and called upon the President of the
Republic to intervene, while the STE threatened to make another complaint against the
Portuguese government to the ILO, labelling the government’s behaviour as ‘anti-demo-
cratic’.19 The unions were undermined by the Governor of the Bank of Portugal who called
the government’s approach ‘realistic’. The period of ‘supplementary negotiation’ (as
required by law upon union request) produced no concession by the government. At this
point the Minister stated that this position of the government was not due to ‘intransi-
gence or arrogance. It is a question of budgetary possibility that doesn’t permit going

18 The FESAP-UGT prefaced its reaction with affirmations that a serious reform of the public administra-
tion was necessary; the leader of STE spoke of the legitimacy of strike action; the FC-CGTP insisted that
the deficit could not be combated by suspending the country’s development and planned for demonstra-
tions for 17 June and for a sectoral general strike for 28 June.
19 The PSD/CDS-PP government’s record with regard to collective bargaining was also characterised by the
imposition of marginal wage increases and intransigence in bargaining. The unions placed two complaints
with the ILO against the Portuguese government for alleged non-respect of national bargaining legisla-
tion and the 87th and 151st Conventions of the ILO.
20 In this second to last meeting, the FC apparently lowered its demands to a 5% increase and stated willing-
ness to negotiate some other issues.

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beyond 1.5%’ (Público, 14 January 2006).20 At the end of this process, although there were
nuances in the positions of the three main union blocks, all basically maintained the com-
mon opinion that the government had not moved from its position, and had not displayed
willingness to negotiate, and none accepted an agreement.

The 2006-2007 collective bargaining round took place in the context of the tense strug-
gle over the revision of the Statute of the Teachers Career (ECD). Again the unions
had demanded pay increases of between 3% and 5% and the government began its
bargaining with a final offer of 1.5%.21 In mid-October the Frente Comum called a
two-day strike of the public service for November and ‘invited’ the FESAP and STE to
join. In its strike call the Frente Comum linked the stalemate in collective bargaining
to a general government offensive against public servants and the state sector and to
the government’s reform proposals. Thus the specific conflict in public sector wage
bargaining converged with the conflict in the public education sector and the battle
over the reform of the state in general. Indeed, the announcement of the strike call
coincided with a major demonstration organised by the CGTP in Lisbon on 12 October
against the reforms of the public sector and social security. On the day of the demon-
stration, the Prime Minister made a point of stating publicly that the government
would continue along its road of reform. Significantly, in the days immediately follow-
ing the strike call and the demonstration, the meetings between the public sector
unions and the government over collective bargaining produced no tangible results but
resulted in much rhetoric referring to the government’s ‘intransigence’ and ‘insensibil-
ity’.22 The government made minor concessions but held its position at 1.5%.

The course of the last years’ collective bargaining demonstrates how the decision of the
government to place the focus of spending reduction upon the labour costs of the pub-
lic sector has resulted in a rigid bargaining policy and has had a serious cost in terms of
conflict.23 Furthermore, this rigid wage containment has left the government without
the possibility of offering pecuniary trade-offs for concessions on the part of unions on
issues of reform of employment relations. The situation has pretty much ruled out the
potential for non-zero-sum games in negotiation; indeed, the trade unions have been
faced with zero-sum or even negative-sum games as the only option. These constraints
have not been absent from the conception of the reforms themselves. Important exam-
ples of this orientation are the rationalisation of personnel throughout state organisa-
tions associated with PRACE and the establishment of low quotas for promotions into

21 Alleging inflexible budgetary restraints due to the deficit, the government’s position comprised a 1.5%
salary increase, an increase in retirement pensions in accordance with inflation, and an increase in the
employee contribution for the public service health plan from 1% to 1.5%.
22 The spokesperson for the FC was widely quoted in the media as stating ‘the government speaks but at
bottom only pretends to be negotiating’. The government had just added a 6 cents a day increase to the
‘meal subsidy’ which is a component of public sector employees’ pay.
23 Cutting back on labour costs has contributed effectively to controlling the deficit. The Finance Ministry’s
Report on the Guidelines Budgetary Policy of April 2007 demonstrated a reduction of such costs to the
effect of 0.9% of GDP due largely to an absolute decrease in personnel. Tellingly, these savings were
equalled by increased expenditure on social charges.

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the higher categories associated with the measures for structuring careers. The quotas
in the norms for the candidacies to the classification of ‘full professor’ in the new ECD
may also be an example of such a concern.

3. The ‘revolutionary’ character of the reform: The reform measures for the most
part cut to the core of the existing model of employment relations which had been
regulated by a public service statute that provided employment security, service-
based promotions, standardisation and uniformity in treatment. In effect the reform
presents ‘revolutionary’ changes through the ending of the civil service status of the
bulk of public sector employees, individualisation and differentiation. Indeed these
changes go beyond a renegotiation of the established ‘effort bargain’. Any trade
union would have to react to defend the existing ‘effort bargain’ and previously
acquired rights or seek some form of significant compensation for concessions of
acquired rights. This explains the relative unity of perspective and collaboration in
action of such politically and professionally divided unions in the sector throughout
most of the reform. For ideological reasons, the largest trade union coalition, the FC,
has been the most staunch, intransigent defender of the civil service model of
employment relations. Nevertheless, the other union camps, the STE in particular,
have gone along with many of the initiatives of the FC. Even though FESAP had
consistently expressed a greater willingness to negotiate issues of reform and was
willing to reach an agreement regarding the new contractual regime and career sys-
tem, it also consistently criticised the government for not listening to the concerns of
the unions and not genuinely negotiating. However this also means that there must
have been something lacking in the government’s approach to the presentation and
negotiation of these measures.

4. The approach of the government to negotiation of the reform with the unions:
Analysis of the process of negotiation demonstrates a repeated pattern in the gov-
ernment’s approach to the presentation and negotiation of its legislative proposals in
each phase of the reform, whether with regard to the general regime or to specific
reforms.24 The government has typically presented to the unions not only a proposal
of reform objectives but fully elaborated legislative bills, that is, fully preconceived
and integrated projects. Typically the proposed legislation has been developed in
technocratic fashion by commissions of academics in collaboration with the Ministries
and without union input into the conception of the reform proposals.25 Its general
approach has been to treat its proposals as rationally devised packages of principles
and mechanisms that are necessary for the country and that it will go to the logical
conclusions to implement, even if that should mean supporting social protest and

24 Adopting a game theory perspective (Adam and Reynaud 1978), this analysis is based upon the construc-
tion of a narrative from the database of press cuttings referred to in footnote 13 of events in the negotiat-
ing processes. See Stoleroff and Pereira (2007).
25 The Government adopted the basic conceptions and guidelines for both the PRACE and the SVCR from
the reports of such commissions. The conception of the new ECD was a product of the Ministry of
Education itself but followed the same pattern of presentation to the unions and the same approach to

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strikes. The technocratic conceit of the government has frequently been expressed
through a discourse contrasting the interests of the country and the special corpora-
tist interests of the unions.26

However, the government’s repeatedly stated willingness to negotiate refers to the

specific procedures involved in the implementation of its proposals. An examination of
the results of the negotiation processes of reform measures demonstrates that the gov-
ernment’s projects have in all cases come out intact with only minor alterations, usually
concerning residual aspects of their details. In collective bargaining the government has
been unmoving in its position from the start. Recently it made a significant, but easy,
concession to a proposal by the FESAP for the addition of a credit mechanism to the
quota scheme within the legislation for the career system, allowing for the unfreezing
of promotions in 2008 within the framework of the new system of performance evalua-
tion. This concession however was made in order to win the agreement of the FESAP
to its overall package of measures on contracts, careers and remuneration and does not
contradict the above analysis with regard to previous phases of the reform negotiations.
Apart from this agreement with FESAP, and apart from the negotiations for the
restructuring of the social security system (which is not strictly speaking a measure of
the reform of public administration), there has only been an agreement with FESAP
and STE over the SIADAP legislation for which the government made no concession
of principles.

Thus, the unions have not perceived the government’s approach as indicative of willing-
ness to negotiate but rather as an imposition. As far back as October 2003, when the
initial aspects of the reform were being presented to the unions by the state secretary
for administration reform of the PSD/CDS-PP government, Bettencourt Picanço, the
leader of STE, complained that the government had intended to impose a reform of
the public administration ‘without negotiation and without discussion’ (Público,
8 October 2003). The same union leader referred to the PS government’s measures of
May 2005 for the PEC as ‘the first systematic attack on a group of workers since the
25th of April’ (Público, 17 June 2005). The unions have made constant complaints,
including formal complaints to the courts and the ILO, to the effect that the govern-
ment does not negotiate. In justification of the November strike during the 2006-2007

26 Typical of this discourse was a speech at a Socialist Party parliamentary meeting by the Prime Minister
following the FC demonstration in June 2005 against the austerity measures for the PEC (see above).
Referring to the positive functions of the welfare state for the least protected, he implied that the unions’
actions were motivated by the defence of corporatist privileges, stating that the government would con-
cern itself with the most disfavoured and ‘not with the professional classes who have greater influence
and greater bargaining power’ (Público, 19 June 2005). At the same time the Labour Minister stated that
the government respected the right to demonstrate and strike but would govern with policies adequate
for the country, and he added that it would do so always within a framework of negotiation, concertation
and debate with the social partners, namely the unions (Público, 18 June 2005). There was a variation on
this theme throughout the tense and highly adversarial process of negotiation of the ECD between the
Ministry of Education and the teachers unions. The Minister of Education and the state secretaries fre-
quently made recourse to a discourse pitting the interests of the unions against the interests and will of
the teachers themselves, and more importantly against the interests of students and parents.

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collective bargaining round, Ana Avoila of the FC stated, ‘This government is the worst
since the 25 April … This government brings to the bargaining table an already-taken
decision. This is a complete absence of democratic culture’ (Público, 8 November
2006). Nobre dos Santos of the FESAP stated on the same occasion, [The government
of José Sócrates] ‘has been one of the worst with respect to negotiation. There has to
be a principle of confidence and that was broken with the arrogant attitude of the
government.’ Bettencourt Picanço of STE stated, ‘Our first demand is negotiation.’

Conclusion: the paradox of public sector

rationalisation and the role of the unions

Referring to the Lisbon strategy, Visser (2004: 11) wrote: ‘In adopting the partnership
approach, the EU and its Member States recognise that they have a joint responsibility
in providing support for a coordinated approach to industrial relations and labour mar-
kets at a time when that is being increasingly challenged – by processes of internation-
alisation, decentralisation and individualisation that tend to make collective solutions
less attractive and harder to enforce.’ Of course the recognition of joint responsibility
has not yet resulted in formal guidelines for social dialogue and thus it becomes all the
more important to assess how national governments actually interact with the unions
and go about the negotiation of reforms of public sector employment relations.

The course of several years of reformist government in Portugal has been replete
with the rhetoric of social dialogue and yet conflict has been abundant and there has
been very little concession on the part of the successive governments to the counter-
proposals of the public sector unions. It is reasonable to at least pose a series of
questions: Is there a problem with union strategy and tactics which has reduced the
possibilities of genuinely negotiated solutions? Are the unions’ accusations of the
government’s alleged ‘anti-bargaining attitude’ a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is the
imposition of austerity and reformist measures of rationalisation the result of a style
of governance or an anti-labour orientation? Is the social dialogue rhetoric of the
Lisbon strategy merely rhetoric when it comes to implementing changes which alter
the established ‘effort bargain’ and established rights in the public sector?

Although the process of reform has not been completed at the time of writing, the
decisive components and measures of the general reform have been negotiated.
Throughout this long process agreements were only reached when, first, FESAP con-
ceded to the government with respect to the very pivotal legislation for the SVCR and,
secondly, when FESAP and STE conceded to the SIADAP. In the end the FC – which
would not concede – was isolated. This outcome would tend to suggest a need to re-
examine trade union strategy and tactics were it not for the fact that all the unions – up
to the most recent phase of negotiations between May and July of 2007 – had made
common public statements to the effect that this government was not bargaining in
good faith and that its approach to negotiations was to obtain union complicity with

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decisions already taken. (In fact, the agreements obtained with FESAP and STE did
not question the government’s conception of the reform and only dealt with aspects of
its regulation.) Thus, it is possible to conclude that this government has had a strategy
of imposing a reform conceived without the participation of the unions and regardless
of the degree of consent of the unions. The final agreements with FESAP and STE
have been convenient, a result of successful government tactics in the wake of the union
division produced by the CGTP’s general strike of May 2007.27 In short, the strategy of
the Portuguese government has been to achieve a ‘revolution’ in public administration
employment relations with or without the unions.

Such a conclusion does not mean that the trade unions do not bear responsibility for
the outcome of negotiations on the reform up to now. It is obviously questionable
whether rigid defence of the system, as well as the ‘effort bargain’ of the traditional
public and civil service model, constitutes a viable trade union strategy for the present
circumstances. It would be easy from the academic point of view to berate the unions
for not taking a more proactive stance from the start of the reform process. Nevertheless,
the governments in question during this process, and the present Socialist government
in particular, decided to take a technocratic approach to the elaboration of the reforms;
these governments devised the agenda of negotiation in such a way as to reduce union
input on these questions. That the governments in question may have considered them-
selves legitimated by the urgency of the deficit crisis does not negate the conclusion that
the social dialogue discourse of the Lisbon strategy has turned out to be largely rhetoric
in public sector negotiation in Lisbon.

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