Government and social partners discuss new part-time work legislation

Download article in original language : PT9704112FPT.DOC

New legislation proposed by the Portuguese Government on the regulation of part-time work is currently under discussion amongst the social partners. The most important points include the definition of part-time work, the requirement that part-timers should have employment contracts in writing and pro rata minimum pay.

Guidelines for proposed legislation on part-time work were agreed in the Short-term Agreement on Social Dialogue (Acordo de Concertação Social de Curto Prazo) that was signed in January 1996 by the Government, the General Workers' Union (UGT) and the three employers' confederations - for agriculture (CAP), commerce (CCP) and industry (CIP).

This Agreement described part-time employment as voluntary and flexible work with rights equal to those of full-time work. It was also suggested that future legislation should promote part-time work not only to combat unemployment and insecure employment, but also to increase families' leisure time and organisational adaptability.

The Government has recently submitted draft legislation on part-time work to UGT and to the three employers' confederations. It will be analysed and discussed, to begin with, just by the social partners who subscribed to the 1996 Agreement on Social Dialogue - the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) did not sign.

The most important guidelines are as follows:

  • part-time work is regarded as regular working hours at least 25% less than what is specified by law, by collective agreement or by other arrangements governing the terms and conditions of full-time workers in a similar situation;
  • a written contract of employment becomes compulsory between part-time workers and their employers;
  • part-time workers may become full-time workers (or the other way around) through a written agreement with the employer;
  • every aspect of labour legislation and collective bargaining must be applied to part-time contracts, except that which is specifically related to working time;
  • overtime is "strictly" forbidden except in cases of force majeure;
  • guaranteed minima for pay and other payments classed as pay are established according to the principle of pro rata or proportionality to full-time rates;
  • financial subsidies will be granted to employers which are willing to sign contracts with part-time workers (which may include temporary exemption from social security contributions); and
  • certain rules prohibiting part-time employment introduced through collective bargaining will be revoked.

Commentary

Part-time employment contracts are not widely used in Portugal, in contrast with other EU member states. A study recently published by the Ministry for Training and Employment reveals that, in Portugal, part-time work represented 7.5% of total employment in 1995, mainly in the industrial sector (24% of the working population, against 7% in services and commerce). Furthermore, part-time contracts are basically oriented towards female employment (in 1995, 69% of part-time workers were, in fact, women).

Low wages (compared with other European countries) and the incidence of female participation rates on the Portuguese labour market help to explain this low proportion of part-time work. On the other hand, without financial and fiscal encouragement, employers do not show any interest in part-time work and part-time workers.

In this context, the new draft legislation will obtain a consensus of opinion amongst the social partners only if it concedes two main points: to the trade unions, that part-time working conditions will be similar to full-time working conditions (in proportion to working time) in order to avoid insecure working conditions; and to the employers, it must also grant financial and fiscal encouragement. Discussion of the new draft legislation will undoubtedly focus on this balance of interests. (Nascimento Rodrigues, UAL)

Reference

"As formas atípicas de emprego e a flexibilidade do mercado de trabalho" (Atypical labour models and labour market flexibility), Ministry for Training and Employment (1997)

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