Working in Portugal

I have translated João’s Facebook post because I think the world needs to know what is happening to honest workers (junior or senior) because of Austerity.
In short: company owners/recruiters have the right to hire and fire as they please, oftentimes without notice period (the independent worker receipt system is unfair on the independent worker’s side).
This is due to high Supply of labour and skilled professionals as well as laws that give employers more rights than employees. On an ending note, some people are lucky to get their salary at the end of the month (for months on end) and end up not leaving home or returning to their parents’ with their families, as other expenses are higher priority than wages.

Joao Carvalho

51 min

I don’t usually share personal stuff on Facebook, but I thought I should “vent” (let’s put it that way) a little regarding the time when I worked at PLM. I don’t mean to deprecate the company, nor to show pity for myself, I just want to know if this is normal in other companies, as well as to alert people who might be going through the same.

It has been a year since I left this company, but it was indeed an unforgettable time in my life. This was my first “real” work experience (not counting internships) after I completed my Master’s degree and, like many other people in the same situation, I started sending my CV out to companies in Aveiro [a university in Portugal].

I was invited to an interview and they thought I suited the role of System Designer, so they offered me a two-week-long unpaid trial period, after which I would find out whether I got a contract with the company or not. Virtually every worker in this company started off the same way. I’m not sure if this is entirely legal or not, but I took it anyway; seeing as I was unemployed and, worst case scenario (i.e. I didn’t get the job), at least I had some insight into what it’s like to work in a bigger company and I would also learn something new. Besides, I didn’t have much choice back then.

After a week, I got the impression that I would be staying in the company, but of course they still used up the rest ot the 2 weeks of free labour before they made things official. Over a month later, I still hadn’t seen any contract, so I started to insist on it on a daily-basis. After 1-2 weeks, it finally emerged. Of course it was handed to me along with an ironic remark — what kind of worker would think it is their right to ask for a contract after working in a company for about 2 months, including two unpaid weeks? (Seeing as the contract was only 6 months long)

This company tell you what time you come in, but not what time you can leave at. You only had to do a couple of hours overtime (besides the normal 8 daily working hours) and you never got a polite ‘goodbye’, but a “Leaving already? How come?”  And it was no joke. You would usually see people working until 9pm, midnight, 5 in the morning or even until the next day. And you would still have to go in at the same time the next day. Of course none of the overtime was paid.

It might have made sense if people did this out of their own accord — say, if they enjoyed the work so much they wanted to stay longer, if they were addicted to their job or because they have a passion for what they do – but it wasn’t the case. Workers did this because they were threatened that their contract would otherwise not be renewed. Deadlines for projects were almost always cut down to half the time required to carry them through. I got to the ludicrous point where I was asked to estimate how much time I needed, sent it to the boss, he approved it (and said I was being optimistic) and then somebody who had no clue about computer programing answered back to say that the project could and, in fact, had to be done in half the time, otherwise there would be serious consequences.

I don’t know if it’s possible to keep this rhythm up in the long-run for some people, but to me and to many others it wasn’t. After a few months without a day’s rest — because sometimes Saturday is a workday — and cutting back on exercising (because I had no time or strength left in me and it’s very important to me), I began to lose my marbles, both physically and mentally. Because I was physically extremely exhausted, I developed breathing problems and still haven’t fully recovered from them (because of this, I have had to turn down some good job offers, but others will come once I’m better). Like many of my former work colleagues, I often take pills for anxiety, which I had never felt the need for in any other period of my life. One of my colleagues even fainted in a meeting. He had a panic attack because he was feeling too much unnecessary pressure, seeing as he is such a competent and hard-working professional and I would even say he has a strong mind.

A friend of mine in the same job I had was suspended from work for 1 or 2 weeks (without knowing if she still had a job when she got back) for asking why she was paid less than her work mates in the same job. Why she was suspended? “You have no business asking around about how much other people earn” Are we living in a dictatorship or what? There are many equally ridiculous stories, but there wouldn’t be enough lines to write them and I thought I should just mention those in which I was present.

Knowing this has happened to so many other people makes me so angry. Knowing that, day-to-day, they are still as affected as I am by the completely unnecessary consequences of that period of our lives. I don’t mean to blame anybody, but I hope this helps somebody and that they can learn from other people’s mistakes. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation in your career or if you have friends who go through something similar, unless your survival depends on it, make a point of finding the courage to change the way things work, even if you are new to the company.  If this doesn’t work, simply walk away, but if you have the guts to do it (I didn’t), take it to court, because the legal system still works sometimes. Don’t let fear hold your silence.

PS: I didn’t mention any names during the post, to avoid invading someone’s privacy.

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4 thoughts on “Working in Portugal

  1. This totally sounds like my job at the moment. (I’m not doing translation tasks fr now since there are just so many of us, so I had to take another job).

    Whilst some things are rather different, overtime is expected everyday, without fail. We tend to finish up everything in time still, but in case we need to stay, we won’t see much of that extra time. At the EOM, it amounts to a full couple of days that go by unnoticed.

    Welcome to Portugal, where no one knows what goes on behind the scenes, and lets be honest, most don’t even care.

    1. You know, there’s a new theory some countries (the Netherlands and Finland among other cities) are putting in practice called Universal Basic Income, which means that people get minimum salary whether they are working or not, so everybody gets paid and spends money. If ambitious souls wish to work harder, they get paid more. And taxed more. But it still would solve a lot of problems, the way I see it. It’s also why I believe art is the future.

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