Social partners sign pact on employment, the labour market, education and training

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February 2001 saw the conclusion by the Portuguese social partners and government of an intersectoral agreement on employment, the labour market, education and training. The deal - the latest outcome of the country's tripartite social dialogue - seeks to overcome weaknesses in education and vocational training, encourage high-quality employment and introduce active and integrated policies to combat unemployment, as well as to promote equal opportunities.

In February 2001, the social partners signed an intersectoral agreement on "employment, the labour market, education and training", under the aegis of the Economic and Social Council (Concelho Económico e Social, CES). It seeks to bring about major changes in the structure of the Portuguese labour market, especially with regard to the training of employees and helping young people to gain qualifications.

In 1991, under the auspices of the CES's Standing Commission for Social Concertation (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS), the government and social partners entered into an agreement on training policy, which never underwent further development. However, a decade later, and after 10 months of negotiations by working groups established by the CPCS (PT0001179F) - which included representatives of the government, trade unions and employers' associations - a new agreement was finally reached. The deal was signed by the government and all of the social partner organisations - the Confederation of Portuguese Industry (Confederação da Industria Portuguesa, CIP), the Portuguese Trade and Services Confederation (Confederação do Comércio e Serviços de Portugal, CCP) the Portuguese Farmers' Confederation (Confederação dos Agricultores de Portugal, CAP), the General Portuguese Workers' Confederation (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). CGTP had not signed the 1996-9 Strategic Concertation Pact (PT9808190F), nor various wage policy agreements, but it has signed the new accord.

The agreement

The Portuguese labour market is still suffering from a series of structural weaknesses (PT0009108N) that reduce the country's competitiveness and the quality and sustainability of employment. According to the new agreement, the priorities for modernising the employment system are:

  • overcoming weaknesses in education and vocational qualifications;
  • encouraging high-quality employment; and
  • introducing active and integrated employment, training and labour policies to combat unemployment.

The strategic objectives of the agreement are to:

  • boost the role of vocational training;
  • fight the trend towards young people joining the labour market too early (child labour) and towards workers leaving active life prematurely;
  • improve pre-school education, school education and the initial training of young people;
  • consolidate adult training and education;
  • develop the National Certification System in the short term, and to consolidate it;
  • promote rational employment and training policy measures, in order to coordinate existing measures within programmes;
  • assess and monitor changes in practices affecting employment quality; and
  • encourage greater participation at all levels of social life and to provide general access to education and vocational training.

To achieve these objectives, the accord provides for measures to:

  • promote quality training, accreditation and the certification of skills;
  • develop the training and vocational qualification levels of the active labour force and improve companies' competitiveness;
  • boost initial training and the transition to working life; and
  • raise employment and job quality levels.

In concrete terms, the main measures include the following:

  • young workers aged between 16 and 18 will receive mandatory training, occupying at least 40% of their working day;
  • employers undertake to make available this 40% of the working day for training, while the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (Instituto de Emprego e Formação Profissional, IEFP) will bear companies' costs incurred in the continuing training of young workers;
  • all Portuguese workers will be entitled to at least 20 hours training per year from 2003, rising to 35 per year from 2006;
  • training will concentrate on the social groups with the greatest training needs, in particular women;
  • people will receive guidance as they move from school into working life;
  • a National Training Council (Conselho Nacional da Formação) will be established to oversee issues linked to training and the transition to working life;
  • mandatory schooling will last until the 12th grade rather than the ninth grade - UGT and CIP would like this measure to enter into force in 2004;
  • to prepare young people for the labour market, a vocational 10th grade will be introduced from the forthcoming academic year, for pupils under 18 who wish to join the labour market and who have only 9th grade education; and
  • measures will be introduced to fight gender-based discrimination at work and in pay, and to help women to enter working life, especially young and long-term unemployed women.

Commentary

The new pact's main aim is to promote training and educational qualifications, improve organisational efficiency, strengthen the social partners' role in this field and provide the foundations to enable existing structures to operate more effectively.

The development of tripartite social dialogue in Portugal has experienced advances and setbacks. The dialogue began in the 1980s with a stage during which the content of agreements (in 1987 and 1988) was limited to recommendations on incomes and pricing policy. It then moved on to a higher level in 1990, with a link created between wages, employment, vocational training, social security and protection, labour legislation and tax policy. The results of these agreements were limited. An important landmark was the 1996 Strategic Concertation Pact. This agreement, the first to be medium-term in scope (1996-9), set out a concerted strategy for employment and competitiveness, drawn up with a view to Portugal's integration into EU Economic and Monetary Union. The new agreement is limited to employment and training, but the social partners signed at the same time a second agreement aimed at improving working conditions and health and safety, If these agreements are effectively complied with, this will lead to institutional changes and will help to strengthen social dialogue. The new agreements provide the social partners with a greater say in situations where this was not previously the case. (Ana Almeida and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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