Agreement at footwear company delayed by sectoral bargaining

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Meaningful pay negotiations at the Portuguese operations of Rhode, a prominent German transnational footwear company, have been delayed, prompting strike action in November-December 1997. Management is waiting for the conclusion of the sectoral agreement before opening the process of bargaining.

Negotiations for a company agreement at the Rhode footwear factory, owned by a German-based transnational company, have in theory been in progress for some time. Workers have demanded a wage increase of 6% (for comparison, the civil service has received an increase of 2.3%, in line with the guidelines proposed by the Government in August 1997). The demand includes a revision of pay scales and 25 days' holiday backdated to the beginning of October 1997. According to the Union of Footwear Workers (Sindicato dos Operários da Indústria do Calçado), a member of the CGTP-oriented Federation of Textiles and Footwear Unions (Federação dos Sindicatos dos Trabalhadores de Escritório e Serviços, FESTESE), the workers did not receive an increase of 2.5% which was supposed to have been awarded in June 1996 until January 1997, and part of the new claim is compensation for this delay.

The negotiations have been accompanied by strikes in November and December 1997. The aim of the strikes was to put pressure on the company management which, according to the union, has refused to enter into any meaningful dialogue or negotiations. The response to the strike call has been very high, reaching as much as 97% of those working in production, according to the union, although the management claims lower figures. Street demonstrations have accompanied the strikes.

Management justifies the delay in opening negotiations with the argument that it will not meet the workforce until the Footwear Employers' Association (Associação Industrial do Calçado) has concluded the negotiations for a sector-level collective agreement that are still in progress. The company points out that it fulfils the conditions laid down in the sectoral agreement and, moreover, pays 7% more than the rate laid down in the agreement, as well as other benefits, such as transport allowances, social benefits and productivity bonuses.

The simultaneous negotiation of the company agreement and the sectoral agreement has a strategic objective for the trade unions, namely to use Rhode as a precedent to pressurise the employers' association, especially as Rhode is amongst the companies that offer the best conditions to workers in the footwear industry.

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