Unions highlight unstable employment in Catalonia

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In 2001-2, trade unions in the Catalonia region of Spain have taken a number of initiatives aimed at examining and criticising the level of unstable employment. CC.OO's Catalan organisation has drawn up a 'blacklist' of the 200 most unstable companies in the region, using a 'barometer of employment quality' to highlight alleged abuses of temporary employment, subcontracting etc. It claims that this exercise has led to intervention by the Labour Inspectorate and the conclusion of new collective agreements. UGT's Catalan organisation has conducted a study on unstable employment.

Over 2001 and 2002, trade unions in the Catalonia region have taken a number of initiatives aimed at highlighting the problems of unstable and precarious employment.

CC.OO identifies 'unstable' companies

The Catalan organisation of the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) - the Catalan National Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comissió Obrera Nacional de Catalunya, CONC) - has drawn up a 'blacklist' of Catalonia's most unstable companies in employment terms. The exercise, launched in March 2001, was announced in a protest presented on 8 May 2001 to the Minister of Labour of the Catalan regional government (Generalitat) and to the public. CONC has created a 'barometer of employment quality' as means of drawing up the list of 'unstable' companies, and as a reference point for its member federations and local organisations to follow up the issue.

According to CONC, the aims of this initiative are to: press the employers to reduce the level temporary employment, which is often used as a means of competition with other companies; force the public authorities (in this case the Generalitat of Catalonia) to enforce the law; urge the Labour Inspectorate to act; and open up the prospect of collective bargaining over the conversion of temporary contracts to permanent ones.

The data for the exercise was collected in a process involving CONC's member federations and local organisations, using the following criteria for identifying unstable companies:

  • a high percentage of temporary employment;
  • successive application of different types of employment contract to the same worker for a period of more than two years;
  • high employee turnover within the same corporate group, or rotation of the same jobs between different workers;
  • whether companies have trade union representation (a study carried out in 1997 found that CC.OO is represented in 52% of companies); and
  • the alleged existence of fraud in recruitment.

Findings and effects

The findings of the CONC study, published in March 2002, include a breakdown of Catalonia's 20'0 most unstable companies' by sector - with abattoirs, meat processing, breadmaking, cleaning and security featuring most prominently - and by location. Table 1 below provides this information, along with the level of CC.OO representation in the companies (it has representation in 52% of the companies concerned).

Table 1. The 200 most 'unstable' companies in Catalonia, by sector and location, and CC.OO union representation
. No. of companies No. of companies with CC.OO union representation
Sector . .
Cleaning and security 38 24
Abattoirs, meat processing and breadmaking 43 16
Auxiliary banking services 5 1
Subcontracting in construction and furniture manufacturing 22 11
Private postal services 9 7
Supermarkets, hotels and catering and retail 23 15
Textiles, leather, chemicals and similar 18 13
Central, regional and local government 4 3
Motor manufacturing, machinery manufacturing and metal stamping 20 7
Location . .
Anoia 9 3
Bages-Berguedà 3 2
Baix Llobregat 13 9
Barcelonès 62 38
Osona 17 2
Vallès Occidental 20 11
Vallès Oriental 14 11
Girona 16 3
Tarragona 16 7
Lleida 12 11

Source: CONC.

According to CONC, the most common forms of unstable employment in the companies concerned are as follows:

  • extension of working time for part-time employees above the legal limits, without payment of social security contributions. This is common in the cleaning sector, and particularly affects women;
  • abuse and fraud in temporary recruitment and very high employee turnover in the meat sector;
  • illegal transfer of workers in the subcontracting of banking services;
  • poor health and safety conditions and insufficient breaks in private postal services companies;
  • abuse of temporary employment, conversion of workers to permanent contracts with six-month trial periods and dismissal during the trial period in the supermarket sector;
  • a high percentage of temporary employment in the catering sector (including in large companies, schools and establishments with a large workforce);
  • low pay and high employee turnover in hotels and catering;
  • an above-average rate of temporary employment in the public administration; and
  • recruitment abuses, successive contracts and employee turnover among temporary workers in several companies in the metal sector.

CONC states that the rate of temporary employment stood at 24.9% in Catalonia in the fourth quarter of 2001. Furthercompaniesmore, of all temporary employees with over two years' service, 37% are moved around within the same company (some of them on temporary contracts of less than three months duration). The figure increases to 60% for temporary workers with at least six months' service. With regard to outsourcing, temporary employment agencies are used in 30% of Catalan companies with CC.OO representation, and subcontracting is used in 35% of cases. According to CONC, its findings indicate that fraud in the use of various forms of precarious employment occurs repeatedly in a certain number of companies. The union thus believes that work must be done on the reasons justifying the use of different types of contract.

The CONC protest campaign on unstable employment is having some effect. There is no doubt that the initiative has led to the intervention of the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate (Inspección de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, ITSS). In total, the ITSS has acted in 157 companies identified in the CONC list, and it has taken legal action for infringement of relevant legislation in 21 of the companies, while 53 companies have been given notification to modify the current situation. At total of 749 workers have obtained a permanent contract in these firms, and action is pending in 24 companies. In summary, so far 1,300 workers have been awarded permanent contracts after the campaign.

In CONC's view, one of the most important effects of the protest campaign has been the conclusion of collective agreements in 25 companies out of the 200 identified - including one located in Vallès Occidental, 10 in Osona, one in Tarragona, and five operating in the private postal services sector. In another five companies, an agreement was reached in the course of action taken by the ITSS before legal action was taken for infringement. In total, about 500 workers have benefited from these new agreements.

In March 2002, following its 'blacklist' exercise, CONC agreed the following measures:

  1. repeating the publication of the list of the 200 most unstable companies in Catalonia, concentrating on companies without trade union representation, in which unstable employment tends to be concentrated, and on young people, women and immigrants;
  2. adapting its trade union training module on 'monitoring of recruitment' to the current context. Greater importance should be given in the training to the regulations on the reasons justifying the use of different types of employment contract;
  3. designing a computer programme to monitor recruitment;
  4. publishing a guide to monitoring subcontracting, containing legal information, references to case law and practical guidelines; and
  5. holding a seminar on subcontracting and service companies.

The CC.OO confederation plans to take a similar initiative at national level, drawing up a list of the 1,000 companies that create the most unstable employment.

UGT study

The General Workers' Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) regional organisation has also analysed the unstable employment situation in Catalonia. It found that between 1993 and 2000 job creation in the region occurred mainly in the service sector (28% of all jobs created), construction (25.7%), the public administration, education and health (24.4%), and transport and telecommunications (18.4%). The sector that created the fewest jobs was industry (4.5%).

The service sector employs nearly two-thirds (61.7% in 2000, or 1.5 million employees) of the employed population of Catalonia. This is the sector in which temporary contracts are most common, working hours are longest and pay is lowest, particularly in retail and hotels/catering, which are the most important areas in this sector (representing 35.4% of services jobs). The service sector had an unemployment rate of 9.6% in 2000, a higher rate than in construction (5.8%), industry (5.3%) and agriculture (1.5%). Furthermore, 57% of the workers in the service sector are on permanent contracts - with the figure as low as 48% in retail and hotels/catering - compared with 70% in industry. In retail and hotels/catering, employee turnover is very high, and 22% of the workers in this sector have a contract for less than 11 months.

Some 21% of the employees in the service sector are temporary, though the rate is even higher in construction. Temporary employment is a phenomenon that particularly affects women (26.4%) and young people (between 16 and 34 years of age). With regard to working time, the sector with the longest hours is agriculture (an average of 44.3 hours per week). In retail and hotels/catering the average is 37.6 hours, given that a quarter of the workers in these sectors work part time.

In terms of pay, industrial workers in Catalonia receive average wages of EU 2,086 per month, compared with EU 1,583 in the service sector. For unskilled workers, average monthly pay ranges from EU 962 in services to EU 1,323 in industry.

In the light of the findings of its study, UGT is calling for a 'regularisation' of recruitment in order to control temporary employment, and for greater control by the ITSS.


Whereas the employers' organisations state that the most problematic factors in recruitment in Spain are labour costs and inflexibility of employment conditions, the trade unions stress the problem of unstable employment. CONC and UGT have drawn a portrait of the reality of work in Catalonia, and they both find that the sectors most affected by unstable employment are retail, hotels/catering, abattoirs, meat processing, breadmaking, cleaning and security, while the groups most affected are women and young people. Both unions agree on the need for greater regularisation and intervention of the labour authorities. The employers, on the other hand, call for greater flexibility. In this case it seems that there is solid evidence to support the unions' protests, so it would be a sign of progress if the employers and the unions could at least reach a common diagnosis of the situation. (Daniel Albarracín, CIREM Foundation)

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