Civil service normalises situation of its fixed-term contract workers

Download article in original language : PT9702105NPT.DOC

With the aim of abolishing "irregular" employment in the civil service, the Portuguese Government is planning to integrate into its permanent staff lists those workers who are currently on fixed-term and other forms of precarious contract.

An investigation into the extent of irregular employment in the Portuguese civil service was due for completion by 24 February 1997. It is intended to put an end to practices which until recently had been allowed to take firm root in the civil service. This situation had come about because of the need to overcome certain difficulties caused by the limits fixed by law on the number of staff who could be employed on a permanent basis. In order to satisfy the requirements of the various civil service departments, staff would be recruited under a system of fixed-term contracts, which were then successively renewed, or even under a system of signing contracts for services (the legal form through which self-employment takes place), even though these workers were effectively performing the same duties as those working under an employment contract of indefinite duration.

In keeping with agreements signed with the trade unions in 1996, an investigation was set in motion to catalogue the number of such positions (estimated to involve roughly 50,000 workers). The purpose was to normalise the employment of workers who, without an appropriate legal contract, had been performing duties that corresponded to the permanent needs of the various departments, and had been working full time in a subordinate position in the hierarchy for more than three years. The situation was to be corrected by filling vacancies in the permanent staff lists, whenever these arose, or by increasing the number of such posts.

With the end of the investigation and the announcement that civil service management would be made responsible for the creation of any irregular employment positions, it is hoped that the problems caused by their proliferation will now be eliminated. In recent years there has been a tendency for the Portuguese legal system to consider workers recruited by the civil service in this irregular fashion to be employed as if under a contract of indefinite duration, although the legal status of these employment contracts is very doubtful. At the same time, successive attempts at rationalising the permanent staff of the civil service have been seriously hampered by the fact that the high level of these hidden forms of employment, such as fixed-term contracts or contracts for services, makes it impossible to calculate the precise number of employees involved.

It must, in any case, be stressed that drawing up this census of irregular employment has itself been hindered by the lack of any response from a significant number of departments, with the result that the number of positions declared so far is still much lower than the estimated total. In order to overcome this difficulty, the Government has approved measures designed to make the managers of those departments responsible for meeting the 24 February deadline (though in the event this deadline was not met). At the same time, negotiations are in progress with the trade unions to decide upon the terms for integrating into the civil service those workers who have been recruited in an irregular manner.

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