The cunhas as is said in Portugal, is a term that concerns the benefit of friends, family or acquaintances by giving them renumbered professional functions or giving them rewards or appointments. Not everyone is able to get a $12,000 scholarship, so some may try “easier” ways to get the things they want. By requesting a cunha you owe a favor to the person who benefited you. This practice is popular knowledge, consent and accepted as normal which happens in all levels of Portuguese society activity sectors. However, it is one of the decisive factors for the low quality of Portuguese services and bureaucracy because professionals are chosen according to their contact network and not according to their merit or knowledge in the area where they will perform professional duties.
So, cunhas have a negative impact on personal and professional lives of university students who can see the limited job opportunities to be allocated to other individuals with less experience or knowledge, just because they are acquaintances or friends of who recruits them. Moreover, this practice being a reality and known by anyone, there is greater pressure on university finalists to build a consolidated network of contacts to also make use of cunhas to survive in this political, economic and social context, which sometimes raises questions on the usefulness of university education toward lending the job one wants.. And thus, this practice is being perpetuated over time.
What are cunhas? And tachos?
The cunhas or tachos, as they are referred to in Portugal, relate to getting a job, usually well renumbered, through a special favoritism rather than merit and recognition of the individual. Additionally, it may be associated with movements in a career, appointments and compensation, and in some cases, rewards and honors for themselves or for family members and friends. These are still very common in current Portuguese society. In addition to this practice in the day-to-day Portuguese society, it can also be observed in other European countries, especially further south than the north, in the Mediterranean area of the continent.
Thousands of cunhas are assigned per year, mainly to individuals who hold high office or with great responsibility functions. But there are also hundreds of cunhas attributed to people who do not have high positions but know people who are placed in a favorable position to grant personal favors by assigning jobs and careers. That is, the knowledge of people who are influential in various sectors or in their workplace is a way of being able to find a job more easily.
Types Of Cunhas And Some Examples
Usually the cunhas exert in the State and in various State sectors and in small companies whose functions are assigned only to family members or acquaintances. Even with the use of state tenders for a particular job vacancy, as the settings are made depending on the jury’s vote it is possible that this benefit would know at the expense of those who do not know. Therefore, it is impossible not to be influenced by contacts in a particular sector of activity or area of society.
Some types of cunhas are:
The professional: “Ah, I happen to know this terrific guy who, by mere coincidence, is also my cousin. Can you…”;
The evil: “I am a very close friend of Jon, and we would love if you could help him get a job if you fired Mark so that Jon can take his place.”
The competitive: “I have 3 clients extremely interested in my product. However, if you can get me X I can manage a way of you to be the one getting it!”
The occasional: “Hey, awesome party! Since we both are great friends of Thomas, I can offer you right away…”
One of the greatest examples in Portugal which became public through the media, was the former Adjunct and Parliamentary Affairs Minister of the Passos Coelho’s Government, in 2011, Miguel Relvas. In addition to having been discovered that after all he hadn’t completed his degree as it was in his CV and the University where he attended who covered up this scheme, also benefited from a cunha which allowed his wife to travel to Angola. Relvas asked the President of Registries and Notaries Institute, António Figueiredo, the criminal record of his wife so that she could obtain a visa and travel to Angola. With just one phone call and two hours later, the document was delivered by hand by the drivers of the Institute. In addition, António Figueiredo benefited others in this way, preventing them of paying emergency fees or avoiding types of bureaucracy, thereby committing power abuse crimes.
In the case of a university student who’s just graduated and is seeking is first job, having a vast network of influential contacts facilitates immense when entering the labor market. This is because, as is well known, the unemployment rate of graduates is a problem that affects quite significant proportions. This economic problem turns out to have a greater impact on the lives of students who intend to sustain conveniently ill after end up their bachelor’s or master’s degree. Thus, the cunhas have become more attractive to university students as a way to fight the mass unemployment rate and survive in the current situation, especially in areas of higher education whose employability is lower. Because of this, there is now greater individual pressure in final year students, who begin to reflect on their possible career, and start creating a consolidated contacts network that often stems from social encounters and relationships with teachers or other members of academic community.
However, while some students may be good in socializing with other people and from different age groups, for some students creating this contacts network will be much more complicated, and they will need to spend some time to move into a different social environment.
Even students who have a consolidated contact network, nothing guarantees them that they can really benefit from it. Usually the contact networks will be consolidated over the years and so, students fresh from higher education are not aware of people who are really influential in their workplace unless they use the contacts network of their families, mostly their parents.
The students who seek job into the conventionally way often will be deprived of the various job opportunities that suit their skills because there is still the preference of friends, acquaintances or family members to job offers. Whether they fit or not in function due only to your contacts will be chosen instead of other candidates, possibly with better capabilities to the function. Thus, it will be much more difficult to get interviews or even get the job. As long as this method of finding a job that privileges contacts and knowledge of relevant people, used to own benefit, cunhas will always have a negative impact on the professional lives of most recent graduates.
Author: Isa Rafael
BSc in Political Sciences (Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, ISCSP, Lisbon University) and currently attending postgraduate studies in Digital Strategic Communication at the same university.