Stockauto, a vehicle storage and distribution firm, has signed a collective
agreement on some of the most controversial issues in the current debate on
reform of the Spanish labour market: the creation of secure employment, the
definition of the objective reasons for dismissal and the search for
procedures to make working time more flexible
On 18 March, the Government submitted a reform package to Parliament
addressing five civil service issues, among them the implementation of EC
Directive on working time (93/104/EC) in the civil service and more flexible
working time rules. Here we focus on the latter point. The new regulations
are expected to be voted on by Parliament in time to take effect on 1 June
On 18 March 1997, eight trade unions and 12 employers' organisations in
industry concluded an agreement on cooperation and the regulation of pay. Its
aim is to promote growth, profitability and competitiveness in industry. As
such, claim the parties, it will provide the necessary prerequisite for a
reduction of unemployment and form the basis for improvements in pay and good
At the end of February 1997 the education and employment minister, James
Paice, was warning that "people ignore at their peril the value of investing
in learning", arguing that too many employers still do not realise the value
of investing in their employees. He went on to say that action should be
taken immediately to drive up skill levels and standards to keep up with
growing international competition. Employers were said to be a crucial part
of this process but, it is "not how much you invest in training, its how you
invest it". The Government thus backs the Investors in People (IIP) standard,
as it shows that spending money on people is an investment and not a cost.
At the beginning of 1997, the total privatisation of Telefónica, the largest
Spanish telecommunications firm, was completed. The trade unions in the
company, led by CCOO and UGT, have applied for a judicial review of this
measure, demanding its suspension until the new regulatory framework for the
sector is defined, and a public, universal and quality service is guaranteed
in the area of telecommunications. The Supreme Court has agreed to consider
the appeal but has not suspended the privatisation.
The shock announcement by French motor manufacturer Renault, on 28 February
1997, of the closure of its plant at Vilvoorde, led to an unprecedented
public display of condemnation among the political establishment of the
European Union (EU). The closure of the plant, in the Belgian Prime
Minister's constituency near Brussels, with the loss of 3,100 jobs, was
apparently announced without prior consultation with worker representatives.
The move was justified by Renault as being part of a wider reorganisation
aimed at making savings of over FRF 825 million per year. The closure of the
only Renault production site in Belgium is likely to lead a further 1,000
redundancies among suppliers and subcontractors; jobs which, in the current
economic climate in Belgium, are unlikely to be replaced in the near future.
The announcement came as a particularly heavy blow to a workforce who had
thought their jobs safe, having negotiated a major flexibility and investment
package only four years previously. The plant is generally regarded as being
highly productive and achieving high levels of quality. The decision by
Renault to close this plant in July 1997 has been interpreted by many workers
as a warning that even a willingness to accept more flexible working
practices can in future no longer be regarded as a guarantee for job
security. The predicament of the workers at Vilvoorde has led to an
unprecedented display of worker solidarity, not only among employees at other
Renault production sites in Europe, but also among workers in other troubled
On 19 March 1997, Parliament passed a reform of the Arbeitszeitgesetz(AZG,
Working Time Act) - see Record AT9702102F . This necessitated minor
changes to the Arbeitsruhegesetz(ARG, Leisure Time Act) which were also
passed on 19 March. However, the parliamentary Labour and Social Affairs
Committee, at the behest of the social partners, had introduced wording
allowing more flexibility than hitherto in regard to Sunday work, causing a
major public debate in its wake. In future it will be possible for the social
partners to conclude collective agreements permitting exceptions from the
general ban on Sunday work. They can only do so, the law states, if it is
necessary in order to avoid economic disadvantage or to safeguard employment.
As far as this is feasible, the collective agreement has to specify the
activities to be permissible on Sundays and the time allowed for them. Until
now it was not possible to grant specific exemptions from the ban on Sunday
work except if the technology required continuous production. The Minister of
Labour and Social Affairs could, however, permit a whole industry to work on
Legislative changes have been introduced affecting "atypical" work under the
Contracts of Employment Act, the Study Leave Act and the Occupational Safety
Act. The changes came into force at the beginning of February and they aim to
bring the legal status of persons in such work closer to the status of
persons under a regular employment contract.
Until recent years, largely due to the voluntary system of industrial
relations in the UK, a universal national minimum wage has never been more
than a passing thought. Instead, because of the growing awareness of poor
working conditions and low wages, trade boards were established in 1909 in
certain "sweated trades" to set minimum wages and standards. The areas and
industries under the boards' coverage began to widen, so that by the time
they became known as Wages Councils (WCs) in 1945 they covered some 4.5
million workers. But from the 1960s, the WCs came under increasing criticism
for three main reasons:
The 1994 labour market reform led to a spectacular increase in part-time
employment contracts, which had hardly been used in Spain before that time.
This feature describes this development and points out the main
characteristics of the workers employed under these contracts, who are mainly
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