Social partners outline demands prior to general election
In July 1999, in preparation for the general election to be held in October, Portugal's social partner organisations drew up their assessments of the outgoing legislature and made their demands to the political parties for the next four-year period.
General elections will be held in Portugal in October 1999. The social partners used the month of July, before the summer holiday period, to take stock of the current legislature's achievements and to present proposals for the upcoming four-year legislature to the political parties. Meetings and press conferences were organised, and action programmes were presented in the last week of July.
The trade union confederations have presented a number of demands and have announced their action plans for September's return to normal activity after the summer break. For the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), this will mean continuing a number of actions that had started at the beginning of the summer, such as negotiations and strikes in a number of occupations within the public administration and the transport sector (nurses, teachers, computer operators, railway workers etc). The General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT) proposes to present an in-depth appraisal of concertation and forms of bargaining in Portugal.
CGTP believes that some positive results have come out of the current legislature, such as the 40-hour working week law (PT9712154F), pay increases above the inflation rate, the elimination of discrimination in the minimum wage (PT9808193N), establishment of minimum pensions, and some minor improvements with regard to taxation. A plenary meeting of union representatives put forward the following priorities for the new government:
- a more active and/or interventionist role for the state in the economic and social areas, as opposed to following the "absolute dictates of the market"; and
- special attention to certain aspects of labour legislation, such as the law covering holidays, and changes to the social security system.
Measures that are considered essential are:
- convergence of pay and standards of living with EU averages;
- better distribution of the wealth that is created;
- fostering full employment and better-quality jobs;
- development of education and training;
- halting the privatisation process currently underway;
- adoption of new policies with regard to pubic services;
- tax reform to combat inequality and injustice (aiding the struggle against tax fraud and evasion);
- steps to guarantee that the social security system continues to be the "workers' heritage";
- health and education services which are people-centred and a "strategic force"; and
- reduction of the working week to 35 hours.
UGT assessment of the results of the current legislature is that a significant number of labour laws have been approved by parliament as a result of the 1996-9 tripartite Strategic Concertation Pact (PT9808190F). Nevertheless, application of some measures has been delayed, such as legislation dealing with night work and with layoffs. The establishment of a national guaranteed minimum income (PT9901120F) has also been positive, as has the large number of collective agreements signed (PT9901123F), indicating a substantial capacity for dialogue and negotiation. According to UGT, the political parties need to act in order to:
- advance towards a "Europe of employment" and strengthen the social dimension of Europe by supporting European social legislation and collective bargaining and social concertation at the European level.
- accelerate the process of real convergence of Portuguese pay and pensions with EU norms, with an increase in productivity through improvements in the production process and training;
- reinforce dialogue, negotiation and concertation at national level;
- promote improvements in the healthcare system and reform of the social security system, to achieve better levels of protection in a public and universal system, financed in way that fosters employment;
- guarantee fiscal reform with a more balanced distribution of the tax burden that would reduce the burden on workers in employment;
- strengthen collective bargaining by redefining its role and by broadening its coverage to all employed workers;
- consider qualitative and quantitative improvements in employment as the central priorities in economic and social policy, within the framework of the Portuguese National Action Plan for employment, in response to the EU Employment Guidelines (PT9904137F), in order to combat unemployment and promote job security. Particular attention should be given to young and long-term unemployed people;
- consider improvements in education and training as essential for economic and social development, since skills are the key to making companies more competitive;
- make a commitment to setting maximum weekly working hours at 40 and thus resolving definitively the problems with the interpretation of the relevant legislation (law 21/96), and encourage reduction to a 35-hour week; and
- combat all violations of labour law and of rights set out in collective agreements, by drawing up legislation that heavily penalises transgressors, strengthens the powers of the General Inspectorate of Labour, makes the labour courts more effective and creates "social clauses" in public contracts.
A number of business and employers' associations have presented their appraisals of the current legislature, taking the opportunity to call attention to issues of importance to their particular sectors of activity.
The Confederation of Portuguese Commerce (Confederação do Comércio e Serviços de Portugal, CCP) calls for: greater Portuguese participation in the globalisation process, which requires profound changes in labour law; a decrease in public administration bureaucracy; and an increase in dialogue between the social partners, civil society and the government on the management of strategic choices, with more involvement on the part of the service sector. CCP also believes that changes could be made in the judicial area.
The General Tourism Confederation (Confederação Geral de Turismo) which recently gained representation on the tripartite Economic and Social Council (Conselho Económico e Social), calls for more social action, referring to the importance of vocational training in this area and to the need for changes in the social security and tax systems.
The Portuguese Business Association (Associação Empresarial de Portugal) which was recently formed from the former Oporto Industrial Association (Associação Industrial Portuense), presented to the political parties currently holding seats in the Assembly of the Republic an "action programme for 2000/2003", which correspond to the term of the next legislature. This programme sets out elements of macroeconomic policy and strategy that the Association calls "foundations for sustained economic development". The document calls attention to:
- the need to open up more space for private initiative; and
- Portugal's disadvantaged position in relation to external competition in the European context.
The document supports:
- changes in fiscal policy to lessen the tax burden on companies and reduce employer contributions to social security; and
- changes in the basis and functioning of public services in the areas of health, social security and justice, with a special emphasis on efficiency and openings for private initiative.
The issues brought up by the various social partners reflect their desires and expectations for the future. It can be said that the employer side is concerned with liberalisation of the economy through privatisation, greater involvement on the part of civil society and a continuation of measures to flexibilise employment relations. On the trade union side, the concerns are with real European convergence and the need for a coordination between the economic and social spheres that would guarantee social rights and social cohesion, and standards of living and working conditions. (Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)