Portugal: Culture workers’ union sees ‘catastrophe’ as 98pct see jobs cancelled

As many as 98% of culture workers in Portugal have seen jobs cancelled, with 33% of them without work for more than 30 days, the Union of Workers in Shows, Audiovisuals and Musicians (Cena-STE) said on Friday, citing a survey.

In financial terms, for the 1,300 people who answered the questionnaire made available by the union, losses from cancelled jobs total €2 million, for the period from March to May this year alone, according to Cena-STE. The average loss of income per worker was around €1,500.

The survey, which was carried out in the second half of March, when social distancing was already underway in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, also shows that 85% of workers questioned are self-employed and have no job security, the union reported.

Cena-STE recalls that culture was among the first sectors to record a drop off in work, followed by a total suppression of activity.

According to the union, the results of the survey were given to the minister of culture, Graça Fonseca, at a meeting that had already been requested before it had been carried out. It was completed on Wednesday.

At the meeting, Cena-STE officials also expressed their concerns at the possibility that the culture sector could be among the last to resume full activity, once the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, to safeguard the health and safety of both workers and the public.

According to the union, the sector is facing a “dramatic and catastrophic” situation, and it has also sought a meeting with the Ministry of Employment, but has not yet received an response.

At the meeting with Fonseca, Cena-STE said that it disagreed with the value and conditions of the support announced by the government for the sector. The amount involved is, it argues, “clearly insufficient”, since the losses between March and May alone suffered by the 1,300 workers who answered its questionnaire, at €2 million, is twice the amount available in the form of emergency support for the arts, recently launched by the government.

Losses are also set to mount if the lack of activity and pay extends beyond May, the union stressed.

Cena-STE therefore calls for “basic measures for the whole sector that are not based solely and only on support for artistic creation”, but which are “cross-cutting measures that guarantee that the support really reaches all workers in shows and audiovisuals, and musicians.”

The union said that the attribution of €438.81 in support for workers without contracts, is “substantially insufficient” and argues that “it is not acceptable” for workers in the sector to be discriminated against by seeing support limited “to a value below the poverty threshold” in the country. 

“The right thing to do is for both the self-employed and employees to receive 100% of their wages,” it argued.

Cena-STE also warned the Ministry of Culture of illegal layoffs, the imposition on workers of days off and holidays, and the exclusion of many self-employed people from access to extraordinary support, as a result of loopholes in current legislation. 

“We can only conclude that access to the extraordinary measures for the self-employed is limited in time, is unclear in its implementation and arrives very late for many families,” said the union.

For this reason, and because it considers fundamental measures for the entire sector to be necessary, the union insists on the importance of ensuring that culture is allocated at least 1% of the State Budget, and the need for specific measures to foster the sector’s recovery.

Labour and social protection measures for cultural workers are another of Cena-STE’s demands.

The survey, which were conducted between 18 and 26 March, was aimed at understanding the problems faced by cultural workers in the face of the Cvid-19 pandemic.

The new coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic has so far infected more than a million people around the world, of whom nearly 54,000 have died.

In Portugal, according to Friday’s bulletin from the Directorate-General of Health, there have been 246 deaths and 9,886 cases of confirmed infection.