Construction site with sunset background

The Portuguese Construction Union warned today that the lack of skilled labor is reaching a limit in the sector. It already needs 90,000 workers and is currently dependent on unqualified foreign workers.

“If urgent measures aren’t taken, the qualified workforce in the construction sector could be reaching the end of the line. Right now, we don’t need 60,000 or 70,000, but 90,000 qualified workers,” said the union’s president, Albano Ribeiro, speaking to the Lusa news agency.

As an example, the union leader pointed to a construction site he visited on Thursday, “which had 150 workers, only 20% of whom were Portuguese”: “The rest were foreign workers, 50% to 60% unskilled, who have never worked in the construction sector and many of them don’t even know who they work for,” he said.

At the root of this situation Albano Ribeiro says is the ageing of the sector, which can’t attract new workers “because it’s not appealing, due to the salaries that are charged”.

As a result, the construction industry is increasingly dependent on foreign workers, whom the union says it has “nothing against”, but who it says cannot continue to arrive in Portugal totally disintegrated, professionally and socially.

“At the moment there are dozens of foreign workers that we, the union, have supported with money for transportation and food. But we want to put an end to this, it can’t go on,” said Albano Ribeiro.

With this in mind, the Construction Union intends to organize a meeting in Porto on February 1, to which it will invite the president of the employers’ association AICCOPN, the Minister of Labour and the embassies of Brazil, Colombia, Morocco and Peru, which are the countries from which it says the most workers arrive in the sector.

For the union president, the solution is to follow the example of what currently happens with workers from Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP), who are trained by various Portuguese construction companies in their countries of origin before coming to work in Portugal.

“Mota Engil is one of the examples to follow,” he pointed out, explaining that the company, before bringing workers from the PALOP to its construction sites, “trains them there as carpenters, bricklayers, etc”. “Then they arrive here with the same rights and duties,” he said.

At the same time, the union intends to intervene with similar unions in various countries that send workers to Portugal, in order to “find ways to ensure that these workers don’t arrive totally disintegrated”.

With regard to fatal accidents in the construction sector, the Construction Union highlighted the 51% reduction in the number of deaths between 2022 and 2023, from 54 to 27, with the goal for this year being a further year-on-year reduction of around 70%.

In this regard, Albano Ribeiro lamented the fact that workers over the age of 70 are dying in the sector: in 2022, he said, one of the fatal accidents involved a 72-year-old worker on a construction site in Fafe.

“There are people aged 75 working, given the low pensions. This has never happened in the construction sector,” he denounced.

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