Working in Lisbon

Before Lisbon

I temporarily stopped traveling and stayed in Czech Republic for some months, hoping to stay for a while. Also, I needed money and was looking for a job once again. It will be so easy to get a job in Prague for an IT person, people said. Dozens of unanswered applications proved otherwise. It was July 2014 when I disappointingly had to return home where I applied for government benefits while I kept looking. In return for receiving benefits, the government had to keep me busy and I ended up drawing sketches of dogs to prove my motivation.

Job in Lisbon

Of all places in Europe, Portugal was always talked about as being the worst off economically during the recession. Yet, this was the place where I finally got a job — at a callcenter. I worked for a callcenter before and never thought I would go through that again. But, maybe this callcenter would be different, I thought. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I got hired immediately after a quick phone call. They told me to book a flight to Lisbon within three days and everything would be arranged: furnished apartment, bank account, tax number etc. would be taken care of. All I would need was some money to survive the first month, I was told, and the flight would be reimbursed after staying there for 6 months. I got picked up from the airport and was brought to my new room. It was a tiny, cold room. The heater didn’t seem to do much against the Lisbon winter — the temperature outside was probably not very different from the temperature in my room.

Training

I still had some days before the initial training started. I started the training in a group of about 12 others. Once I was finally here, it wasn’t as organized as they made it seem. It took over a week before we actually got some paperwork to sign. The contract said we’d be paid a bit more than € 2 an hour, not exactly what we were told in the interview. This, however, would only be our pay during the training. Although 2 weeks of training was promised, we got 3 weeks of training on the contract. This meant 2 weeks of actual training plus one week of work, while being paid as if we were still in training.

Start of work

After the training we got a new contract. Apparently the training doesn’t count as part of the job so the probation period would be yet another month. The training taught us some of the basics, but it wasn’t really enough to actually solve the customer’s problems as there was still a lot to learn. That’s why the calls would take a bit longer than they should, which I would expect to be normal for someone who just started. The company had a different idea though; calls should be short. Only call time really matters because that’s what the company is paid for. Take the customers e-mail address, end the call and e-mail them some standard basic troubleshoot to do themselves, is what they told us. If I can’t solve it in a few minutes: get rid of them. The pixels on your TV are broken? Try a software update! That’s what I did and my results were getting better. Close to the end of the probation period, we were told the statistics would be very important because they wanted to decide who would stay or go. It wasn’t a surprise they would fire some people because we were obviously with too many people. We would often wait for half an hour before the next call came in, but I wasn’t worried: my results were good.

End of work

At the end of the last day of my probation, a manager wanted to have a word with me. He told me they would not extend my contract. He didn’t really know why. Our trainer decided this and he was not working that day. Also, he wouldn’t be there the next week until Thursday. But, there may be other projects in the company I could apply for. I asked at the employee support for these projects, but they had already deleted me from their system so I’d have to apply like a regular person.

I received an e-mail almost straight away, asking me when I would be “leaving the country”, telling me I should have to leave the apartment in 48 hours. I replied I am not planning to leave the country, I’m still looking for another opportunity within the company and I still have to talk to my trainer. I waited until the trainer was back and spoke to him. He admitted my results were very good for the last week, but they already made the decision weeks before and, as we expected already, they just hired too many people, probably expecting some of us to give up in the first month. It took about another week before someone from the company came by to the apartment to say I never replied to her e-mail and that the trainer said he never spoke to me (?). I did ask for proof of my results, which the trainer sent to me, in case I need them for another job…

Next job search

In just one week I already had two job offers. One was a low-paid but really cool job at a hostel; the other was a better-paid job (almost € 800 a month after tax) for an IT service desk. It’s surprisingly easy to get a job in Lisbon as a foreigner. I chose the better paying job and stayed there for a couple of months.

Some practical info

Working conditions

Portuguese working conditions not very strict for the employer. For example, you may be forced to work unpaid overtime and in the first 6 months, according to Portuguese law, they don’t have to allow you any holidays. But, generally they will allow you anyway.

In callcenters, we usually keep working during holidays, even if no customers will call all day.

Wages and costs

A normal callcenter wage is between 700 and 800 euros a month after tax.

If you end up in one of the callcenter where rent is provided, they will take about € 80 a month from your wage. If you have to look for your own place, a very cheap room would be € 250; average is over € 300. A full apartment will be over € 1000. Supermarket prices aren’t cheaper than Western European countries. In fact, they are often more expensive so the cost of living isn’t that much cheaper.

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