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If you receive a food subsidy through a meal card, you will have already understood the advantages and disadvantages of this system. But is this an obligation of the worker or, on the contrary, can this refuse to receive the food subsidy on a card of meal?
According to the law, and according to the amounts established for civil servants for 2023 (which are reviewed annually), only a meal subsidy equal to or less than €5.20 is exempt from taxes. But this only happens if this subsidy is paid in cash.
When payment is made using a meal card (or meal vouchers), the exemption limit is €8.32which is advantageous for those who receive, because they are not charged more IRS, but also for those who pay, because they save on TSU.
Putting it that way, it’s easy to understand the popularity of these cards, which have thousands of users in Portugal.
Limitations on the use of meal cards
However, not everyone seems to be completely satisfied with this system, either because they prefer to receive cash or because these cards Can only be used at participating establishments.
Although the number of stores and restaurants that make up the network of partners is growing, there are cases in which a particular retailer may not renew the commercial agreement with the company that issues the cards. And, in these cases, the solution is to go shopping elsewhere.
So, if you receive the food subsidy on a meal card, make sure that the place where you are going to consume it accepts it and be aware of the conditions and limits of use that may arise.
If you don’t have it yet, but your company wants to install this system, do you have to accept the change?
Food subsidy: can I refuse to receive it on a meal card?
The answer to this question is not a yes or a no, as it depends on several factors.
The first point to bear in mind is that the meal subsidycontrary to what you might think, not required by law.
Article 260 of the Labor Code it is very clear: “The following are not considered remuneration: Amounts received as per diem allowances, travel allowances, transport expenses, installation allowances and other equivalents”.
In number 2 of this same article, all doubts are dispelled: “The provisions of paragraph a) of the previous number applies, with the necessary adaptations, to the allowance for failures and the meal subsidy”.
This means that food subsidies, like other non-mandatory subsidies, are not part of the remuneration category and, therefore, are not included in the calculation of holiday remuneration, holiday and Christmas subsidies.
That is, as it is not a retribution, and not being mandatory by law, in practice, the employer can decide whether and how to pay this benefit.
It is only paid if it is stipulated in the individual work contract or in the collective work agreement and it is this document that will dictate when and how it is paid.
This situation is usually discussed when negotiating the contract. Therefore, and if you have room to negotiate, you can try to have the meal subsidy be paid in cash and not by cardif that is your option.
Keep in mind, however, that this means paying more taxes if your allowance exceeds €5.20 per day.
Can the company change the payment method?
The company has legitimacy to do so. Although this is not a peaceful issue, it is usually cited a Judgment of the Court of Guimarãeswhat gives reason to a company that stopped paying the food subsidy in cash and started to do it on a meal card.
This case, dated from 2016, in which the employer was accused of unilaterally changing the method of payment of the meal subsidy, has served as an example to dispel doubts as to the need for agreement on the part of the worker.
It is equally debatable whether the employer has a duty to advise that the employee will be paid in a meal card and not in cash.
Article 106 of the Labor Codewhich concerns the duty to inform, only mentions that the employer must inform, among other things, “the value and periodicity of the remuneration”.
Now, whether the meal subsidy is not considered as consideration, this obligation does not seem to apply. Therefore, you may not be notified that you will start receiving the food subsidy on a meal card.
Apparently, cannot refuse to replace the food subsidy with meal cards and, although companies usually notify, namely in writing, of this change, they may not even do so. And the decision, even if the worker does not agree, can be unilateral and irreversible.
Anyway, and if you don’t want to receive the food subsidy on a meal card, you can try to negotiate with your company. If you have doubts or decide to proceed with a complaint, the best thing to do is to go to ACT – Authority for Working Conditions.
Meals, but not only
The designation meal card seems to indicate that these cards can only be used to pay for meals, but the reality is quite different.
In practice, the card can be used in establishments that are part of the partner network of the issuing entity and, among them, are supermarkets and hypermarkets.
Therefore, it ends up being used to buy clothes, household items or other products that are for sale in large supermarkets. And the truth is that there is no specific regulation for these cards.