* Rallies, labour protests against cuts
* Economy minister to be given "one-way ticket" out of
* TAP strike partly coincides with Iberia's
LISBON, March 4 Staff at Portugal's national
airline TAP will strike on March 21-23, unions told the
government on Monday, adding to growing protests against budget,
pay and job cuts in the bailed out euro zone country.
Following massive rallies in Lisbon and dozens of other
cities on Saturday to demand the austerity-minded government's
resignation, a railroad workers' strike against
pay cuts is also planned for Wednesday and Thursday.
The TAP strike is also likely to exacerbate regional air
transport problems caused by intermittent stoppages at Spain's
Iberia, the final round of which is scheduled for March 18-22.
TAP operates around 180 daily flights.
Protesters plan to hand a symbolic one-way ticket to Toronto
to Economy Minister Alvaro Santos Pereira, who studied and
taught at Canadian universities before joining the government.
Azores-based airline Sata will also be hit by the strike,
the first to be backed by all eight unions representing pilots
and workers at state-owned TAP.
They demand that they be spared pay cuts of up to 10 percent
that went into force across the public sector in February.
"We are inserted into a blind policy of public sector cost
cuts even though TAP has always been managed as a private
company and is one of Europe's most efficient airlines," Jaime
Prieto, head of the civil aviation pilots' union, told Reuters.
TAP's core air transport business has made profits in the
past two years, helped by increasing passenger numbers, but the
company is weighed down by large debts and poor results at an
aircraft maintenance hub in Brazil.
The unions argue that those losses for now are being
absorbed within TAP's own finances, which have long been
independent from state budgets and point to plans to privatise
the company under the Lisbon's international bailout.
But the losses - which ultimately saddle the state with more
debt - do give weight to politicians' arguments that everyone
should contribute to cutbacks aimed at making Portugal more
The Economy Ministry declined to comment on Monday.
Transport Secretary Sergio Monteiro said last week "strikes in
the transport sector are not the best way for workers to
preserve their jobs" and the government is open to negotiations.
"It's pure populism, the government just wants to set an
example by enforcing pay cuts at TAP. It's practically Stalinist
policy," Prieto said as the unions were preparing to hold a
protest in central Lisbon.
Prieto and other union leaders said they were still open to
negotiations, but "doubt that the government will be humble
enough to acknowledge that it is wrong". They claim flying staff
have already seen salaries fall 26 percent over the past three
years, which have driven many to take jobs abroad.
A TAP spokesman said the company will take measures to
minimise losses and discomfort to passengers, but would not
estimate how much traffic it will be able to maintain.