WORKERS' COMMISSION

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Portugal
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PORTUGAL
COMISSÃO DE TRABALHADORES
WORKERS' COMMISSION

The Constitution confers on Portuguese employees the right to create commissions at enterprise level with wide-ranging powers, thus placing Portugal among the few countries in which employees possess such rights and extensive powers to participate in and monitor enterprise management. These constitutional provisions clearly make the workers' commission an institutionalized form of representation within the enterprise, with members elected by employees, who also draw up their standing rules. The commissions themselves are empowered to exercise the rights conferred on them by law, directly linked to their institutionalized aims or objectives. The manner in which a commission is created was not left to the autonomy of employees: the Workers' Commissions Act imposes a special electoral procedure. In contrast to trade unions, workers' commissions are not associative in nature; they are the legally representative bodies for an enterprise's entire workforce (a single commission for each enterprise).

The rights granted to workers' commissions (Article 54 of the Constitution, Articles 18 et seq . of the Workers' Commissions Act) are as follows: the right to information ; scrutiny of management ; the right to manage or co-manage company welfare facilities ("obras sociais"); the right to have regular meetings with the enterprise's management bodies; the right to promote the election of employee representatives to sit on the management bodies of state enterprises or other public bodies; the right to be consulted on the reorganization of production units; the right to participate in the preparation of sector-level economic and social plans; and the right of participation in the drafting of labour legislation . In addition to these fundamental rights, others relate more particularly to the functioning and internal running of the commissions and cover: the right to use of premises and other facilities; time-off rights; the right to legal protection for their members; the right to distribute information and display notices; and the right to organize meetings in the workplace.

In enterprises with a number of establishments in different geographical locations, workers' subcommissions may be created for each, empowered to exercise delegated functions and act as a link to the enterprise-level commission. Lastly, the Act provides for the creation of co-ordinating commissions, which unite the workers' commissions of different enterprises with the objective of ensuring "improved intervention in economic restructuring".

The law requires that elections should be democratic and commissions should be representative. It imposes election by direct and secret ballot, rejecting the view of those who asserted a principle of sovereignty of self-organization. In fact, the imposition by law of basic democratic processes such as voting by direct, secret ballot is manifestly a means of guaranteeing the greatest possible measure of democracy in the elections and so cannot be seen as an attack on autonomy. The legal provisions facilitate voting (in the workplace and during working hours), thereby helping to ensure that voting is de facto universal as well as direct and secret. The law also stipulates the principle of proportional representation, with election from lists of candidates put forward directly by the enterprise's employees and supported by at least 100 (permanent) employees or 10 per cent. of the workforce. This system expresses an implicit right to form factions, making the existence of a single commission for each enterprise compatible with the pluralistic representativeness of its composition.

The importance of the workers' commission, nowadays much reduced, was crucial during the revolutionary period, when there was an explosion of forms of employee intervention in the enterprise which were almost always on the margin of the trade union movement. Today, however, the significance of workers' commissions is very small, firstly because they are tending to disappear (only 380 in a total of more than 150,000 enterprises), and secondly because the unions have major influence even in areas of intervention which are formally allocated to the commissions.


Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.