Spain: Impact of social dialogue among workers with disabilities

A report on the reasons for the limited integration of people with disabilities in the labour market in Spain concludes that here is no uniform approach regarding the inclusion of issues affecting disabled workers in collective agreements. The report finds that these issues are dealt with in a marginal and uncoordinated way and recommends specific training for those negotiating collective agreements. 

About the report

The report on the impact of social dialogue on workers with disabilities (in Spanish, 1.32 MB PDF) was published in April 2015 jointly by the ONCE Foundation, the General Workers’ Union (UGT) and the Largo Caballero Foundation.  The report provides information on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market in Spain, describes how collective agreements relate to workers with disabilities and points to the limitations these workers may experience in relation to social dialogue. The project involved a combination of desk-based research, in-depth interviews with experts, and case studies.

Key findings

The report first analyses the factors which determine and limit the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market. Data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) show that, in 2010, people without disabilities had an employment rate of 60.6% (67.1% for men and 54.1% for women), whereas people with disabilities had an employment rate of only 27.7% (31.4% for men and 23.3% for women). Workers with disabilities form a very diverse group, with differences in matters such as disability level, gender, age and qualifications. Based on desk research, the report concludes that the higher the level of qualifications gained by those with disabilities, the easier their access to the labour market. According to 2010 data from INE, people with disabilities have an average activity rate of 36%, which increases to 60% for those with tertiary level education. 

The report goes on to analyse a selection of collective agreements from a database (REGCON) maintained by the Ministry of Employment and Social Security. A sample of 437 collective agreements, all published between 2008 and 2012, was studied.  Company, national and autonomous community levels were represented in the sample but overall it was not representative because:

  •  only four of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain Andalusia, the Basque Country, Madrid and Valencia were represented;
  • the economic sectors covered commerce, transport, manufacturing industries, and administrative and auxiliary services were those with a relatively high proportion of  workers with disabilities . 

Analysis of agreements

The analysis involved a search for specific terms in the texts of the agreements such as ‘disability’, ‘functional limitation’, ‘limited capacity’ and ‘LISMI’ (the acronym for the Law for the Social Integration of the Disabled). The following conclusions were drawn from the analysis.

  • Some 39% of the agreements had some type of reference to at least one of the search terms.
  • There was no general pattern for the inclusion of items affecting workers with disabilities in the collective agreements. For instance, a clause related to the professional classification of people with disabilities might be included in different sections, depending on the particular agreement. 
  • Clauses related to ‘employment policy’ for people with disabilities (for example, type of contract, professional classification, working time, training and mobility) were the most usual, particularly in sectoral agreements at national level (85.7% of cases) compared with 43% of company-level agreements. These types of clauses were also fairly common in sectoral agreements at autonomous community level.
  • Health and safety clauses were also relatively common in sectoral agreements at national level (22.4% of cases against 4.7% at company level), similar to equality clauses (18.4% of cases against 9.3%).
  • Clauses related to ‘social benefits’ for people with disabilities were more common in company agreements (19.8% of cases) than at in sectoral level agreements with a national scope (2%).

The information obtained from in-depth interviews with 14 people with different professional profiles (including associations representing people with disabilities, labour intermediation, workers’ representatives, labour inspectorate and legal experts) and case studies (four companies with the specific policy of employing people with disabilities) suggested there was no systematic knowledge of the role played by social dialogue in facilitating the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market.  The study identified as one cause of this knowledge gap the limited training or knowledge in this field undergone by the negotiators and representatives taking part in social dialogue.

Some interviewees explained that the issue of ‘disabilities’ is not a priority in social dialogue and that other subjects tend to come first: these include matters such as economic conditions and salaries, particularly within the context of the economic and financial crisis. However, the report argues that lack of knowledge among social dialogue actors is also probably a key reason why ‘disabilities’ are not a priority.

Another important factor is the limited labour integration of people with disabilities. Indeed, it is mainly in the companies where people with disabilities are a significant presence that there is more specific development of terms and conditions particularly aimed at this group in collective agreements – for instance, equality criteria and promotion possibilities.

Proposals for improvement

A number of proposals for improvement were drawn from the interviews and case studies.

  • Social dialogue. Suggestions include awareness-raising measures and resources, such as training for workers’ representatives, information for all employees and promotion of the participation of workers with disabilities on workers’ representative committees.
  • Helping people with disabilities to access company vancancies. Ideas include developing measures to fulfil the statutory minimum quotas (Law 13/1982 for the Social Inclusion of the Disabled stipulates that, in public and private companies with more than 50 workers, 2% of the staff must be people with disabilities). It was also suggested that specific protocols could be used in selection processes and for special employment contracts that would encourage the fair assessment of people with disabilities and help them make the transition to ‘ordinary’ employment.
  • Working conditions. Proposals include offering guarantees to workers who become disabled, drawing up equality plans dealing with the issue of disabilities, introducing measures for adapting the conditions of each work position, greater involvement of people responsible for health and safety, introduction of flexible working time, and consideration of functional and geographical mobility.


From a social dialogue perspective, the report shows that the labour market condition of people with disabilities in Spain is dealt with in a marginal and uncoordinated way. Not surprisingly, the report's authors express the view that all collective agreements (particularly sector-level ones) should include sections and clauses specifically aimed at people with disabilities, and that these should be less ‘declarative’ and more ‘operative’.

One of the report's main conclusions is that if more people with disabilities were in employment, it would be more common to find clauses in collective agreements referring to them. Thus, the authors recommend the development and improvement of labour intermediation and guidance services which could improve the labour inclusion of people with disabilities. The report highlights the importance of fiscal initiatives and public programmes promoting the employment of people with disabilities (particularly in small enterprises) and points to the need to differentiate these measures according to the degree/type of disability in order to promote diversity among those employed.

The report also underlines the need to offer specific training for social partners (particularly those negotiating collective agreements) to encourage them to draft more clauses related to disabilities in collective agreements even in companies with only a few disabled workers.  The authors recommend an awareness-raising plan for all stakeholders to involve them in improving the labour conditions of people with disabilities.

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