Full-time GNR soldiers, workers in their spare time

Joaquim shows the card with his name, phone number and the inscription: “Real Estate Consultant”. António laughs at how people look at him every time he enters the café all dirty with coal. Paulo comes home exhausted after spending all day assembling a DTT antenna. These three men have something in common: they’re officers of the Portuguese National Republican Guard (GNR).

Rita Ferreira

Translation by Paulo Montes

June 2014

When in 2012 the Government decided to discontinue the analog television signal and impose the mandatory introduction of DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) for whoever wanted to keep watching TV at home, Paulo didn’t realize immediately that was an opportunity to make money. But it didn’t take him long. “It was a great deal!” Everyone needed to install the new technology quickly. Many lacked the knowledge, patience or time to get everything they needed for the change. So Paulo became an expert in assembling antennas and DTT receivers. “There’s this small device you connect to the antenna, but very often you need to bring a huge length of cable from the roof to the living room. There were places where the installation took a whole day, and I even put my life in jeopardy when I saw myself twice in the middle of a thunderstorm and had to climb down from the roof in a hurry or hide behind a chimney”, he says.

His service was cheaper than what local companies were charging, sometimes over 100 Euros for the job. “I would charge 50, 70, 80 Euro, depending on how long it would take me.” On this occasion, Paulo devoted himself entirely to the antennas. There was plenty of work and the extra income he brought home would make up for all the money he had lost in recent years: the wage cuts had taken him almost 200 Euros per month while in the meantime his wife lost her job. Paulo is the only source of income in a home where two more children live.

Paulo is a GNR soldier. Before the wage cuts and the “huge” tax increases, he had a salary of around 1500 Euros. Now, with one of his allowances diluted, he doesn’t make it to 1100. Being promoted in rank within the GNR ended up causing him to lose more money, since the IRS (Income Tax) increase was bigger than his pay raise.

He didn’t always have a second job. “I was living at the station, my wife could have left my suitcases outside the door. I enjoyed it a lot when it first started, I wanted to show myself. But with time we start getting disappointed and losing our motivation. Being a GNR was a source of pride and we had some benefits because of that. It was easy to get a loan from the bank to buy a house or a car. Now we can’t get a loan from anyone, those boons are over.”

Paulo never says he’s GNR when he accepts work. The antenna business is long gone and now he does other things. Odd jobs. Some small fixes, paintwork and being responsible for maintaining a farm near where he lives. He is also a dedicated farmer and sells much of what he grows. “Last year I sold 400 kg of pumpkin, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, beans, peas, garlic, onions, apples, oranges…”

There are no receipts or invoices in this. “Are we evading taxes? Yes, we are but everyone does it. The parallel economy didn’t start down here, it started up there”, he argues. Therefore, Paulo feels no remorse in breaking the law, although he should be enforcing it as a police officer. “At the beginning we give a lot of traffic tickets, after ten years on the job we’re already giving more advise than tickets and after twenty years we stop advising people, we just let them go by”, he vents. “I once enjoyed my job, a lot. But now I only care about it when I’m at work and I just pray that nothing happens.”

Today, Paulo is doing desk work. But normally he’s on patrol, which is good for the odd-jobbing. “I talk to people and they complain that they need this and that. I take mental notes and when I’m off work I go to them and offer them my services.” Paulo never says is GNR. But if someone asks, he won’t lie.

Within the law

The National Republican Guard is a security force of military nature and has around 25,000 men throughout the country. The Military Statute which they follow is clear about the possibility of agents having another activity: unless they have prior authorization, they should “hold back (…) from having any commercial or industrial activity or any other of lucrative nature, related to the performance of their duties or inconsistent with these, while on active duty.” We asked GNR how many disciplinary proceedings had been initiated due to non-compliance with this rule and if there had been any authorization requests, but they still haven’t replied.

Three years ago, in order to prevent any repercussions, Joaquim sent a requirement to the GNR’s General Command requesting authorization to have a second activity, explaining he would only work outside service hours and that the job in question was perfectly compatible with him being a GNR. “It was a very exposed job, always dealing with a lot of people, so I thought I should get authorization.” The answer was affirmative and now, when he’s not on the force, Joaquim is a real estate agent. He shows his card with his name and phone number. “I have two cellphones, one for when I’m working at GNR and the other just for the real estate business”, he explains. He’s a licensed estate professional with a service delivery contract, paying his taxes on a commission-based remuneration.

Joaquim earns 1,500 euro a month at GNR and he is the only source of his family’s income, with two children and his unemployed wife. “I’m being paid the same as in 2008. Back then, I had a lower rank but I was earning more”, he says. So he decided he had to get another source of income. “I don’t have much time to rest, because I’m spending all my days off working on real estate.” Joaquim is an estate agent in charge of around 60 properties. He conducts the house visits and takes care of the whole process, whenever there’s a sale or a lease. He has an office outside his home where he takes care of all this, but he doesn’t have clients coming in through the door.

He knows his situation is an exception to the rule within the GNR. According to them, the norm is almost everyone having a second job without ever asking for authorization. However, Joaquim has already answered to several colleagues who asked him how he got the General Command’s endorsement.

©osomeafuriaThe coal man

Schedules within GNR are not easy for those who need some extra work. In addition to having to work in shifts, which sometimes last all night long, you only have one day off per week and a full weekend off only every two months. There are some exceptions, but this is the rule. With rotating days off, they work seven straight days and rest one, in case they don’t have to keep working.

António’s alarm clock goes off at six-thirty in the morning, when he’s off-duty. “I bring a snack and lunch and I spend the day in the field. I chop wood and I carry it to the oven.” António is a coal maker, along with a friend, the owner of the land where they burn wood on a brick oven for five or six days until they see some blue smoke. You need around four thousand kilos of wood to produce 800 to 900 kg of coal. You just light it and wait. Since António is on duty, the friend is the one watching the smoke coming out of the round igloo-like oven with three meters of diameter. “When the smoke goes from white to blue, you know the wood has stopped burning. You cover the oven with clay, smothering it and you wait until there is coal.” This process can take seven to eight days and each batch yields around 150 euro, minus the price of the wood.

After the coal is ready, António and his friend prepare the twenty kilo packages to be sold to a company that will handle the distribution. “We sell it at thirty cents a kilo. Sometimes we sell a ton, sometimes two or three tons. Dividing by two… It would be better If I could do this myself, but I can’t, I don’t have the time.”

António says he can bring home around two hundred euro a month. That’s slightly more than what he has lost in his wage in recent years. For a long time, he was in GNR without having to have another activity, but four years ago he returned to coal, an art he had learned as a kid. “When I joined GNR 15 years ago, my salary was enough for me. I was single, had no kids. Then came the children and my financial situation got complicated. But this is very little money for so much work. I’m always out, I never come home before seven o’clock.”

It’s a dirty job, says António, smiling. “Because of the black powder. It’s funny going to the café for a beer, all black, smelling of smoke. It’s work but we enjoy ourselves walking around in the fields.” He’s not thinking about asking for an authorization. It’s not worth it: “It would all go into taxes. I pay VAT to buyers but it’s their invoice.”

António also ensures that most of the GNR military have a second activity. “People don’t talk much about it, but it’s a fact. And nobody bothers them.” There are places where they speak more openly about it, and it’s no secret that one is a painter, the other sells houses, the guy who just left is a taxi driver, the one who entered is a bricklayer. So, it is normal that, when attempting to contact him for a territorial service, you hear on the other side of the line: “António is off-duty, he’s working.”