Outsourcing at Petrogal leads to labour tension

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Worker representatives are aiming to guarantee acquired rights at Petrogal, a Portuguese oil-refining company which is engaged in a process of "outsourcing", and the dispute resulted in strike action in December 1997. Information and consultation are seen as mechanisms through which workers can participate.

Petrogal is an oil-refining company, of whose shares 55% are publicly-owned and 45% owned by Petrocontrol (a consortium of several Portuguese groups). Its costs have recently been decreasing and its efficiency increasing because certain functions are now carried out by more specialised companies, which has left the company more time to concentrate on its own specific objectives. Petrogal has therefore decided that in furtherance of this process all computer-related functions should from now on be "outsourced" to a multinational company specialised in the field of the computerisation of the oil business.

EDS- the computer company concerned - proposes, according to the Petrogal workers' commission (comissão de trabalhadores), to hire all 80 employees in the Petrogal computer department (with the exception of the management). At present, only about 20 employees have entered EDS and, after some discussion, they have been guaranteed the rights they benefited from at Petrogal: continuity of service and pay level and the chance to return to the company. The remaining employees were not too confident about their prospects - flexible working hours, no overtime pay and relations subject to a great degree of tension. According to the workers' commission, besides the problem with the employees, another negative aspect of outsourcing has been the almost total loss of control over disclosure of strategic information by the company.

The trade unions representing the company's employees, together with the workers' commission, called a strike in December 1997 as a form of protest against the lack of information and consultation from management and the lack of certainty as far as the future of the employees was concerned.

"Outsourcing" is a human resource strategy pursued by enterprises seeking to reduce the number of employees. It seems that lack of information and consultation, at a stage when the company is being restructured, merely increases mutual suspicion.

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