CGTP holds strike to oppose draft Labour Code

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On 10 December 2002, CGTP - one of Portugal's two main trade union confederations - organised a one-day 'general' strike. The main aims were to apply pressure in negotiations over the government's proposal for a Labour Code and to call for fairer social and wage policies. The proposed Labour Code would replace most current labour legislation by bringing existing provisions together in a single text, while amending current provisions in a variety of areas. CGTP and the other main union confederation, UGT, are planning a joint general strike in January 2003 if they regard the outcomes of the Labour Code debate as unfavourable.

In summer 2002, the coalition government of the centre-right Social Democrat Party (Partido Social Democrata PPD/PSD) and the right-wing People's Party (Partido Popular, CDS/PP) issued the preliminary draft of a proposed Labour Code (Código do Trabalho) (PT0208101N). The new Code aims to bring together in one document a large number of aspects of labour law, while amending a number of them - Portugal currently has no such codified set of labour legislation. In terms of collective aspects of labour law, proposed changes cover areas such as employee representative structures, collective bargaining procedures and dispute-resolution mechanisms (PT0210102F). In terms of individual aspects of labour law, proposed changes relate to matters such as working hours and overtime, fixed-term contracts, absence from work, reinstatement of dismissed employees and parental leave (PT0211104F).

The first stage of the debate on the Code came to an end in November 2002, when a revised version of the draft Labour Code was submitted to parliament after being debated by the Standing Committee for Social Concertation (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS). Some amendments were made to the preliminary version of the draft as a result of suggestions from the social partners.

CGTP holds strike

On 10 December 2002, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral de Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) - one of the two main trade union confederations - held a one-day strike extending across a number of sectors, described as a 'general strike'. The strike call was largely a protest against what CGTP regarded as the unsatisfactory results so far of the Labour Code debate, along with other issues connected with defending 'fair' social and wage policies (PT0209104F).

According to CGTP's strike call, the new government's policy seeks to:

  • deregulate labour and make it more precarious;
  • make labour cheaper;
  • privatise public services
  • compromise public workers’ purchasing power (PT0211101N); and
  • alter the retirement conditions for public administration workers.

According to some commentators, the most significant aspect of the strike was not the impact it might have on the approval of the Labour Code but the greater-than-expected support for it. The fact that participation extended beyond CGTP members suggests that the strike expressed a general dissatisfaction with the socio-economic situation. Indeed, the Prime Minister stated that the support revealed a certain social discontent in Portugal. Given the current serious economic crisis, he said, this dissatisfaction is justified but a general strike is not the best way to react.

The most solid support for the strike came from the public sector - air and land transport, health, education and local government - where employment conditions will for the most part not be regulated by the new Labour Code, as it covers only the non-public administration sector. Notable support also came from certain public or recently privatised industrial sectors, such as the cement sector, and from the textile and metalworking industries in the private sector.

Subsequent developments

Following the CGTP strike on 10 December, delegations from the CGTP and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT) met at the latter's headquarters on 13 December, under the leadership of their general secretaries, to coordinate their positions in the continuing discussions over the draft Labour Code. The strike on 10 December had not been a joint CGTP-UGT action, because UGT was not in favour of a strike while the negotiations on the Labour Code bill were taking place. It pointed out that

  • negotiations in the CPCS were then ongoing;
  • the relevant parliamentary working committee was hearing the social partners’ views; and
  • the public debate continued, with the government stating that it was willing to insert amendments in the bill until 8 January 2003, when a plenary meeting of the National Assembly (Assembleia Nacional) was due to discuss it. The government seemed particularly amenable to the idea of renegotiating the part of the Code that concerns collective bargaining mechanisms.

UGT still considers the bill on the new Code to be unacceptable, although the negotiations have already resulted in important changes, and it hopes that at the end of the negotiations the best solutions will be found to protect the workers’ interests. Should parliamentary approval of the new Code be based on a text that the UGT and CGTP cannot accept, then they have agreed to hold a general strike on 20 January 2003.

In a press conference after the strike, CGTP stated that, given what it regarded as the high level of support for the 10 December strike, the government should drop the idea of approving the present draft of the Labour Code.

Employers’ organisations regard dismissals and the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers as issues in the new Labour Code that are particularly hard to resolve. The perceived rigidity of current labour legislation is seen as a major problem, if it assures employment independently of a worker’s performance, creates unproductive fixed costs for the company, reduces the remuneration of those who work harder, discourages companies from creating more jobs in times of crisis, leads to price rigidity and produces bankruptcies.

Commentary

Statistical comparison with earlier strike trends in Portugal indicate that strikes generally persist in the sectors, occupational groups and companies that have always supported such action. However, support by public administration employees for strikes - as occurred in the case of the CGTP strike on 10 December 2002 - is an exception, as it is only in the last decade that the mobilisation of these workers has begun. The support given to strikes by teachers, doctors and nurses (PT0209102N) is an even more recent phenomenon. The renewed interest of the mass media in this issue is also notable.

With regard to the key issue of the proposed Labour Code, there is a widespread opinion in some quarters that labour legislation is not a factor in Portuguese competitiveness, as this depends above all on business management abilities and workers' skills. (Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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