PORTUGAL – The raising of the civil service pension age is among grievances about planned changes to the welfare system that has led to the CGTP union to call for a general strike.

The 800,000-strong union’s announcement comes a week after a rally in Lisbon which saw up to 40,000 of its members protest against plans to raise the pension age by five years to 65.

Public and private sector employees, including teachers, policemen and government workers, were today set to stage a further rally.

The background to next month’s strike is civil servants’ right to retire at 60, compared with the private sector’s retirement age of 65.

A CGTP official, who declined to be named, told IPE that public employees are ready to defend their rights. The strike is expected to be well supported.

The government’s plan to cut expenses is aimed at tackling the country’s public deficit which is expected to hit 6.2% of GDP in 2005.

Yesterday Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its long-term rating on Portugal to 'AA-' from 'AA'. The agency said it expects the deficit to remain above 3% of GDP at least until 2008.

The cut was in response to the government's audit of the public finances.

The Portuguese ministry for social security was not available for comment.