Social partners assess collective bargaining in 2002

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In April 2002, Spain's central social partner organisations - CEOE and CEPYME for employers and CC.OO and UGT for trade unions - issued a joint statement on collective bargaining in the wake of their December 2001 agreement laying down guidelines for bargaining in 2002. The social partners' assessment is positive, and they claim that the agreement's commitment to pay moderation is being upheld.

In mid-December 2001, Spain's central social partner organisations signed an 'agreement for collective bargaining 2002' (Acuerdo para la Negociación Colectiva 2002, ANC 2002), which laid down criteria for bargaining in 2002 (ES0201207F). The signatories were the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE), the Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Confederación Española de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa, CEPYME), the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) and the General Workers' Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT). In April 2002, the signatories assessed some of the agreement's results so far, and issued a joint statement on the collective bargaining situation.

The ANC 2002 agreement contains commitments: on pay, based on wage moderation and wage guarantees through wage revision clauses; on employment stability and the capacity of companies to avoid traumatic staff adjustments by means of greater flexibility; on the improvement of qualifications and training; on equal opportunities and equal treatment; and on health and safety at work. The deal was partly the result of government pressure in the form of an ambitious proposal for the reform of collective bargaining (ES0112242F), which was finally shelved when the social partners reached an agreement. The joint statement issued on 16 April is also a warning to the government to respect the autonomy of the social partners in collective bargaining. The main points of the statement are as follows.

The bargaining criteria set out in the ANC 2002 are mainly aimed at maintaining and improving employment and the competitiveness of companies. In the opinion of the signatories, ANC 2002 aims to create confidence in order to help prolong the cycle of economic growth. According to the representatives of the social partners, three months after the signing of the ANC 2002, the political, economic and social circumstances confirm the reasons for the agreement because, although there are signs of economic recovery both in the USA and in Europe, there is still a possibility that oil prices may have a negative influence on the economic cycle. Despite the slowdown in the international economy, there has been no mass destruction of employment. However, according to the statement the latest unemployment figures (ES0204202N) justify the commitment made in the ANC 2002.

The joint statement claims that the pay increases agreed in the three first months of 2002 have conformed to the ANC 2002 guidelines (linking pay increases to government inflation forecasts and productivity growth), particularly by taking into account the development of inflation. The average pay increase agreed in March was 2.74%, though this does not include the possible effects of wage revision clauses, which are to be evaluated at the end of the financial year when the annual change in the retail prices index is known. Figures for pay increases up to 31 March 2002, taken from the Ministry of Labour's Bulletin of Statistics on Collective Agreements (Boletín de Estadísticas de convenios colectivos), clearly show that wage rises have been moderate in comparison with the same period in the previous year.

According to the statement, if inflation rises at a time of moderate pay growth, pay increases should not be taken as an inflationary element. Rather, the rise in inflation should be attributed to measures that have a direct effect on prices, such as the recent rise in indirect taxes, the rise in prices of certain public services and the continuing inflationary tendency in certain areas.

As in previous years, revisions of existing collective agreements have been more common so far in 2002 than new agreements, due to the large number of multi-year agreements that are due for wage revision this year. The 1,872 agreements signed up to 31 March 2002 (new and revised) affect almost 4 million workers, ie more than a third of those covered by collective bargaining, and there are no substantial differences between the figures for the number of workers covered by collective bargaining in March 2002 and March 2001. The joint statement thus takes a positive view of the development of collective bargaining.

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