Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. While the law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining, several restrictions limit these rights. The rights of police officers and members of the armed forces are limited. The Judiciary Police, the Foreigners and Borders Service, and prison guards may strike; the Public Security Police and the Republican National Guard may not. If a long strike occurs in a sector deemed essential, such as justice, health, energy, or transportation, the government may order strikers back to work for a specified period. Unions considered the list of essential sectors to be overly broad. Unions reported that compulsory conciliation and arbitration as prerequisites to strikes, restrictions on the scope of strikes, and restrictions on the types of strike actions permitted could limit the effectiveness of strikes.
The law requires unions to represent at least 50 percent of workers in a sector for collective bargaining units to be extended beyond the enterprise level. Public-sector employee unions have the right to discuss and consult with their employers on conditions of work, but they do not have the right to negotiate binding contracts. There remained a lack of clarity regarding criteria for union representation in the Permanent Commission for Social Partnerships, a tripartite advisory body. The law names specific unions, rather than giving participation rights to the most representative unions.
The government was generally effective in enforcing these laws. Resources, including inspections and remediation, were adequate. Penalties for violations range from fines to imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
Authorities generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations could generally operate free from government interference. Requirements for enterprise-level bargaining by work councils sometimes prevented local union representatives from bargaining directly on behalf of workers. There were instances of employers undermining strikes using last-minute minimum-service requirements. According to labor union representatives, some workers received threats that union participation would result in negative performance reviews. In September 2019 cabin crew at Ryanair airline went on strike to protest exploitation through low wages and job insecurity, and the company threatened workers with a freeze of career prospects. The government decreed that minimum services were required during the stoppage, which the union considered an attempt to eliminate the right to strike.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The law places responsibility for complying with legal provisions on temporary employment agencies and employers of temporary workers. It provides that the contractor and the developer, company, or farm, as well as the respective managers, administrators, or directors, and companies with which they are connected are jointly liable for violations of the legal provisions relating to the health and safety of temporary workers and are responsible for entitlements, social security contributions, and the payment of the respective fines. Civil society, however, noted a need to strengthen monitoring and regulation of temporary employment and recruitment agencies, especially those employing and recruiting domestic workers. The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any labor recruitment agencies for fraudulent recruitment or trafficking.
Government resources dedicated to prevention of forced labor, including inspections and remediation, and enforcement of the law remained inadequate. Penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment were sufficient to deter violations, and convictions remained low. Convicted offenders frequently avoided imprisonment, undercutting enforcement efforts and victim protections, according to NGOs and media. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor during the year included a countrywide awareness campaign and training security forces to identify, flag, and direct victims to assistance services. In 2019 courts convicted and sentenced three traffickers (a couple for sex trafficking of Brazilian women, and a Nigerian trafficker), compared with 25 convictions in 2018 (17 sex trafficking and eight forced labor).
According to the Portuguese Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings, foreign labor trafficking victims were exploited in agriculture, construction, and domestic service, while Portuguese victims were exploited in restaurants, agriculture, and domestic service.
Traffickers subjected children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The statutory minimum age for employment is 16. The law prohibits the employment of persons younger than 18 at night, for overtime work, or in sectors considered hazardous. The Working Conditions Authority (ACT) in the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security has primary responsibility for enforcement of the minimum age law and enforced it effectively in major industries and the service sector. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws and penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Resources and inspections were adequate.
Child labor occurred in very limited cases. Children of Romani descent were subjected to labor trafficking through forced begging and forced criminality by coercing them to commit property crimes (also see section 6, Children). Sub-Saharan trafficking networks increasingly used the country as a route into the Schengen area to exploit children in sex trafficking and forced labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The law requires equal pay for equal work. According to the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment, and Social Security, however, women’s average salaries were approximately 14.4 percent lower than those of men. On January 16, the government announced the “Equality Platform and Standard,” a government project to combat inequalities between women and men in the workplace.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage covers full-time workers, rural workers, and domestic employees who are at least 18 years of age and is above the poverty income level.
The legal workday may not exceed 10 hours, and the maximum workweek is 40 hours. In 2016 the government approved a return to the public sector’s traditional 35-hour working week, down from the 40 hours that had become standard in the private sector. The maximum is two hours of paid overtime per day and 200 hours of overtime per year, with a minimum of 12 hours’ rest between workdays. Premium pay for overtime worked on a rest day or public holiday is 100 percent; overtime performed on a normal working day is paid at a premium of 50 percent for the first hour and 75 percent for subsequent time worked. Unions raised concerns regarding working hour provisions on flexibility schemes and time banking, which the government noted were designed to make working hours more flexible and increase productivity. Occupational safety and health standards set by ACT were current and appropriate.
Information on enforcement of these laws in the small informal economy was not available.
ACT was responsible for enforcement of minimum wage, which was above the poverty level, and also for hours of work and safety standards in the formal sector, and it effectively enforced these measures. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties ranged from fines to prison sentences, were commensurate with those for similar crimes, and were sufficient to deter violations.
Workers have the right to lodge confidential grievances with ACT regarding hazardous conditions or circumstances they believe endanger their health. Inspectors have the right to conduct inspections at any private or public company at any time without warning, and they may shut down a workplace or a business permanently or temporarily if there is imminent danger to the workers’ health or safety. Workers are registered with social security services, whose funds cover their mandatory insurance for occupational diseases and work-related accidents. ACT conducts studies on labor accidents, salaries, and working conditions. It may impose administrative penalties and file lawsuits against employers. It has the right to access company records, files, and archives, and it may provide mediation services to resolve individual or group labor disputes. Labor enforcement tended to be less rigorous in sectors such as construction and agriculture, where there was a large number of small or family businesses and where most immigrant workers were employed, according to NGOs. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health (OSH) laws, and penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. ACT reported 83 deaths from work-related accidents in 2019, a decrease of 37 percent from 2018. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.