Portugal's jobless young people leave country for work

By Nigel Cassidy
BBC News, Porto, Portugal

Image caption,
Mr Fontes wants to go abroad to make enough money to finish his studies

If you want to know what Portugal's striking public service workers fear could happen to them, the working life of Adriano Fontes, 30, serves as a fine example.

Mr Fontes works casual shifts making coffees and serving tables in a smart cafe in central Porto, Portugal's second city.

Last month was not a good one. He earned 250 euros ($331; £208).

This is not much more than half the minimum wage, leaving him just 100 euros to live on after paying the rent on his tiny apartment.

Mr Fontes is not entitled to sick pay or a pension.

But the really bad news for him is that his boss is about to close the cafe because there is not enough business.


So Mr Fontes is now looking for a farm job overseas.

Mr Fontes wants to make enough money to finish his studies, which he had to give up because he could no longer afford to pay his degree tuition fees.

But at the moment, he is merely getting by.

"My goal right now is to be able to survive because this is not exactly living," he says.

"I know that finding another job is not going to be easy, so I'm looking abroad for the summer.

"I know some people who have been fruit-picking, so I'm sending some emails to Denmark and Ireland. I think they pay a lot of money compared to what I can earn."

Protecting benefits

Mr Fontes' insecure work pattern is one that is fast becoming the new norm in Portugal, as state jobs go and as benefits are cut under the country's European Union and International Monetary Fund-driven austerity programme.

The rule is supposed to be that whenever two workers leave a state job, only one person can be hired to replace them.

Talking to people such as Mr Fontes, it becomes clear why those employed in the public sector may decide to join in strikes in defence of the pay, pensions and benefits that they still enjoy.

Yet the uncomfortable truth is that Portugal spent 10 years growing its state sector on cheap euro borrowing, and the country will soon go bust if it does not slash its national outgoings and find a way to generate some wealth.

Short-term offers

Finding work is increasingly hard in a country where the real jobless rate is probably about 22%.

Not quite as high as neighbouring Spain, but far higher than the official figure of 14.6%, simply because many who want to work are not registered as unemployed.

Image caption,
Temporary work is becoming the norm in Portugal

At 09:00, in a brightly painted branch of the temporary staff and employment agency Randstad in suburban Maia, several locals are already browsing the job boards.

Most of the posts on offer are short term.

Young people sometimes find they are overqualified for what is on offer, and many never get a second interview unless they leave some of their qualifications off their CVs.

Randstad's country chief, Mario Costa, acknowledges that the new flexible way of working may be alien, but says people here may as well get used to it.

"It is worrying that we now see a lot of middle-aged as well as the young, all looking for jobs, but there just aren't many fixed-term contracts," he says.

"We have to adapt to this change, and this is something politicians and trade unionists aren't seeing."

Learning from rivals

On the positive side, Mr Costa says the track record of his own company demonstrates that the private sector can create many more jobs than the state.

He believes Portugal has many natural advantages, though he also says the country's small and medium-sized firms - many of them in the tourism industry - must learn from rivals in other countries.

They should study best practice and create more products and services the world might want to buy, he insists.

But meanwhile, Portugal's young continue to look abroad for better futures.

Since the start of the financial crisis, thousands of students who have failed to find work are cutting their losses and making plans to emigrate.

Many look beyond Europe to Brazil, Angola or Mozambique, countries in dire need of trained professionals such as dentists, lawyers, architects or engineers.

Mature Coimbra University student Hugo Diaz is hoping to go to Brazil, and he says he may not return if things go well.

"They have lots of public works and really need qualified people to teach," he says.

"It's good for me because the language they use is the same.

"But we should be sorry, as there is a new generation of people that could be an asset for this country's development who are simply fleeing because it is their only option."

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