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Negotiations to revise the important collective agreement in Portugal's
banking sector are deadlocked. The industry's largest trade union will soon
hold its elections, but its socialist members are divided, while substantial
workforce reductions have been announced for the coming years.
After a legal battle lasting more than three years between the management of
La Samaritaine (one of the five large Paris department stores), and its works
council and CGT union branch, two rulings by the highest court in the French
legal system on 13 February 1997, imposed the reinstatement of staff made
redundant, as part of the cancellation of a corporate "downsizing" procedure
(plan social). These rulings reveal the growing role of judges in the
supervision of redundancies.
On Sunday 2 February 1997, a so-called "multicoloured march for jobs" drew
about 50,000 people from all over Belgium to the streets of Clabecq, a small
industrial town on the borders of the provinces of Brabant and Hainaut.
The European Commission has recently published its report on progress made in
the implementation of equitable wage policies since 1993. The aim of
providing all employees with an equitable wage was enshrined in the Charter
of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, which was adopted by 11 member
states (with the exception of the UK) in 1989. In accordance with the 1989
social Action Programme, the Commission published an Opinion in 1993, which
stated that the pursuit of an equitable wage must be seen as part of the
general drive to achieve higher productivity and employment creation, and to
foster good relations between the two sides of industry. The member states
were encouraged to give substance to their commitment made in adopting the
Social Charter, by working towards the establishment of an equitable wages
policy. This was to be achieved through greater labour market transparency
with regard to wages. The social partners were also called upon to contribute
to the achievement of this aim.
February 1997 saw a major strike in Spain's road transport sector. The
dispute was well supported, mainly in the north of the country, but was
called off without winning many concessions from the Government.
It is expected that the fate of the Forges de Clabecq steelworks will be
sealed on 15 June 1997. However, whatever the outcome of the recovery
operation by the Swiss-Italian industrial concern, Duferco, something will
have changed in this Belgian enterprise located some 15 miles from Brussels
in the province of Brabant. Beyond the event in itself - the closure of a
firm leading to the loss of 1,800 jobs - which has not itself been
exceptional over the last few months in Belgium, it is the style of activity
undertaken by the Forges de Clabecq union delegation  that has revealed a
new union climate.
Late in 1996, Parliament passed legislation providing for changes in the
Employment Security Act that aroused the anger of the trade unions. Although
most of the new provisions apply from 1 January 1997, the most controversial
modification, in Section 2 of the Act, will not come into force until 1 July.
This will give trade unions and employers more time to adapt to the new rule
in the legislation which deals with the level of central bargaining and
In a recent press interview, Padraig Flynn, the European commissioner
responsible for industrial relations and social affairs, expressed his unease
at press reports that the social partners' negotiations on part-time work
were heading for collapse, and stated that he remained hopeful of a positive
outcome. Senior trade union negotiator and deputy general secretary of the
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Jean Lapeyre, also stated that he
remained convinced that the negotiations could succeed. He stressed, however,
that if part-time work was to be made more attractive and acceptable for
workers, assurance of "decent social protection" had to be offered.
This action, which came as a complete surprise to the 3,100 employees, is
part of the French-owned motor manufacturer's "new industrial strategy" of
concentrating production to cut its financial losses. Michel de Virville,
managing director of Renault, announced the closure adding that:
On 19 February, the Government presented a bill to Parliament, proposing
modifications in the legislation concerning the granting of workers' claims
in case of their employer's insolvency. There is no doubt that it will be
passed by Parliament. This will then be the second time the legislation has
been modified in order to comply with EU Council Directive 80/987/EEC on this