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BBC World Service

Portugal cuts four public holidays to trim budget

Marketplace Contributor May 9, 2012

Stacey Vanek Smith: Greece is struggling to form a government after an indecisive election over the weekend. Meanwhile, the country is on track to run out of money as early as next month. The Portuguese government announced a new austerity measure to address the debt crisis in that country. It’s abolishing four holidays.

The BBC’s Alison Roberts has more.

Alison Roberts: Of Portugal’s 12 national holidays, four are on the chopping block, two of them religious: All Saints Day on November 1st and Corpus Crisit Day, 60 days after Easter.

The elimination of the religious holidays involved negotiations with Portugal’s Catholic hierarchy, who agreed to give up two holidays only if two secular ones were scrapped, too. Gone now are Republic Day, October 5th, which celebrates the country’s abolition of the monarchy, and December 5th, marking the restoration of Portugal’s independence from Spain in the 17th century.

The arrangement, however, is temporary. The religious holidays will only be suspended for five years starting in 2013. Portugal’s economy minister, Álvaro Santos Pereira, confirmed the news on his way into a Portuguese-Spanish summit today. He said the Vatican was also involved in the negotiations.

Álvaro Santos Pereira: It was a question of the negotiations with the Holy See, in which it was established that in five years we’d look at the question again. It was what the Holy See wanted.

This papal partnership has outraged secularists, who say the church had no business bartering with the state in such a fashion. But while Portugal’s constitution is secular, it has a treaty with the Vatican that means the church must be consulted on major changes that affect it.

The scrapped holidays come at a time when hundreds of thousands of public sector worker have already lost employee holiday and Christmas bonuses for at least a year — meaning some will lose one-seventh of their total pay. There’s been huge uncertainty — and fierce debate — about when and how fast the bonuses are to be restored.

The main trade union federation has spoken out against the holiday reforms. It slammed the decision, calling it a return to feudalism.

In Portugal, I’m the BBC’s Alison Roberts for Marketplace.

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