All Images by Noah Schmeling

Labor Protesters Pile Up in Lisbon

The number of educators in Portugal’s public school system shrunk from 185,157 in 2005 to 150,127 in 2021. That number is set to decrease even further in the coming years.

The city of Lisbon saw two sizable labor protests over the past week, involving numerous unions, political parties, and labor sectors.

The first, on Thursday, February 9th, gathered in front of the Assembleia da Republica around 4:30 in the afternoon. This protest was organized primarily by Portugal’s Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses (CGTP) labor union, headed by Isabel Camarinha.

Camarinha, who has served as the Secretary General of Portugal’s largest trade union since 2020, spoke on Thursday in front of thousands of workers, protestors, and supporters. Camarinha and other members of the CGTP rallied protesters into a thunder of demands for more sustainable working conditions, better pensions, and fewer working hours.

Thursday’s demonstration was just a taste of what workers and, particularly teachers, had in store for the city.

All Images by Noah Schmeling

Saturday’s considerably larger protest was focused exclusively on Portugal’s public education system. More than a dozen teachers’ unions from around the country gathered in Lisbon and marched from Praça Marquês de Pombal to Praça do Comércio. Easily numbering upwards of 100,000, Saturday’s demonstration was the largest teacher’s protest the country has seen in 15 years, since 2008’s “Manif” events. 

Portugal’s Federação Nacional dos Professores (FENPROF), or the National Federation of Teachers, gathered unions from Braga to Faro to acknowledge the impending teacher shortage — which some argue is already unsustainable. The number of educators who make up Portugal’s public school system, from kindergarten to high school, has been steadily dropping from its 2005 peak of 185,157 to 150,127 in 2021, according to Pordata

This steep and consistent loss of teaching professionals, according to the unions, is caused by poor working conditions, innumerable hours of overtime that have yet to be compensated, and by poor wages that, for some, haven’t risen in over a decade. 

Elsa, a high school biology teacher present at Saturday’s demonstration, says her work has gone unappreciated and wages have remained generally stagnant for 15 years. “Our government doesn’t respect our work . . . teachers are not well paid . . . I have been a teacher for 22 years, and I am receiving more or less the same [wages] as 15 years ago.”

Many protesters said there has been no attempt by the Ministry of Education, led by João Marques da Costa since March of 2022, to address the six years, six months, and 23 days of work put in by teachers that has gone uncompensated due to sweeping budget cuts in the 2010s.

Manuel, an elementary school language teacher in Lisbon, spoke about these uncompensated hours, days, and years: “I [have been] a teacher for about 23 years, and the government owes me six years of work.”

Education professionals present at both Thursday’s general protest and Saturday’s protest expressed grave concerns regarding the future of education in Portugal. Even today, the conditions for both teachers and students are deplorable: According to the annual “State of Education” report, released in January by the Conselho Nacional de Educação (CNE), or National Council of Education, 26,742 students in the public school system were left without teachers for at least one subject in the 2021/2022 school year. These shortages are noticeably and uniformly worse in metropolitan areas with high cost-of-living rates, such as central Lisbon. Low wages offered across the country understandably deter many prospective teachers from accepting jobs in costly areas. This trend neatly ties Portugal’s teaching crisis with the problems of unchecked cost-of-living increases and gentrification that has been festering in Portuguese cities for many years.

CNN Portugal reported that this trend will only grow exponentially worse if left unattended. Twenty-two percent of the teachers who worked during the last school year were 60 years of age or older. In “six or seven years,” all of these teachers will be eligible for retirement, and there are few teachers-in-training gearing up to take their places. 

Prospective teachers are understandably worried about the profession’s current trajectory.

Many young students, however, try to steer clear of hopelessness and put their energy into the demonstrations and strikes organized by the current teacher’s unions, namely FENPROF and Sindicato de Todos os Profissionais de Educação (STOP), or the Syndicate of All Education Professionals. 

Speaking about students of education to Diario de Noticias, Catarina Ruivo, President of the Academic Federation of Lisbon, said, “They believe that if there is this mobilization now, and if some changes in terms of careers are effectively achieved, especially in terms of progression and salaries, obviously [they] will have much better conditions when they start practicing”

Saturday’s demonstration, which stretched across party lines and featured speakers ranging from the right-wing Chega party to the left-wing Bloco de Esquerda party, showed the solidarity that exists not only between education professionals from all over Portugal, but also between the country’s educators and their students, the parents of their students, education students, and an entire generation of young people from Portugal and beyond who wish to see a better state of education in Portugal.

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