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Thousands are protesting in Portugal to demand higher wages and a cap on food prices

LISBON, March 18 (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters packed downtown Lisbon on Saturday to demand higher wages and pensions and government intervention to limit soaring food prices that they say are strangling already tight budgets.

Metal worker Paula Gonçalves, 51, said people were protesting “against low wages, precariousness and for more justice” for workers.

“We, the workers, are the ones who produce, we give everything we have … and the profit is everything to the employers and nothing to us,” she said.

Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe and official data shows that more than 50% of Portuguese workers earned less than 1,000 euros ($1,067) a month in the past year, while the minimum wage is just 760 euros a month.

According to Eurostat data, the minimum wage in Portugal – measured in purchasing power parities rather than current prices – will be €681 a month in 2023, the 12th lowest of the 15 countries in the European Union that have minimum wages. This compares to 726 euros in Poland, 775 euros in Greece or 798 euros in Spain.

Portugal’s largest umbrella union, the CGTP, which called for the protests, is demanding an immediate increase in wages and pensions by at least 10% and asking the government to cap prices on basic commodities.

Portugal’s Economy Minister Antonio Costa Silva on Friday ruled out any government intervention to curb rising food prices, citing the market as the best price-setting mechanism.

As of Jan. 1, civil servants’ salaries rose by an average of 3.6% from 2022 levels and those of the private sector by 5.1%, while pensions rose by a maximum of 4.83%, government data showed.

Portuguese inflation slowed to 8.2% in February from 8.4% in the previous month. Prices of unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables rose 20.11%.

A year after Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa won a majority in Parliament, he faces street protests and strikes by teachers, doctors, railway workers and other workers.

“Every time I go to the supermarket, I see that (prices of) products are increasing a little bit more every day and wages are not following … there is an urgent need to limit the increase in the cost of living,” said Ana Amaral, 51 , Assistant to the Hospital Administration.

($1 = 0.9376 euros)

Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Miguel Pereira; Edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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