Industrial action in public administration
Industrial action has accompanied trade unions' pay demands in Spain's public administration since late 1996, and the threat of further action has been made if negotiations are not started immediately.
Industrial action by civil servants and workers in public administration (funcionarios) has not prevented the imposition of a government wage freeze for 1997. The Government has decided that its general state Budget, rather than collective bargaining, will establish pay increases for these workers . As a result, the trade unions are considering further action across the sectors involved. These include not only the civil service but also a range of subsectors, such as education, healthcare and the police.
During the last few months of 1996 there were several partial outbreaks of industrial action in public administration, that culminated in the calling of a strike by all civil servants on 11 December 1996. The main reason for this was the fact that the new Government of the PP (Partido Popular, People's Party) did not accept the agreements reached in 1994 between the previous Government of the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) and the trade unions (CC.OO, UGT and CSI-CSIF, among others), which would have increased salaries in 1997 in line with the increase in the retail prices index. This refusal to accept the agreements, accentuated the loss of purchasing power in public administration that has taken place over the last few years.
In addition to the wage claims, the trade unions are demanding the right to bargain with the Ministry of Public Administration (Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas) through the General Civil Service Commission (Mesa General de la Función Pública ). Their proposals focus on creating and consolidating employment in the public sector, on various improvements in working conditions and health at work and, in particular, on the opening of subsectoral negotiations (in areas like healthcare and education) which give greater relevance to collective bargaining between trade unions and Government. All these demands fall within the framework of defending and improving the quality of public services, as espoused by the trade unions.
The Government claims that the wage freeze is a result of the economic policy that has been adopted and of the need to adjust to the Maastricht criteria. It has offered to discuss the issues at the General Civil Service Commission, but it is not prepared to accept previous commitments relating to pay increases. In addition, the Government has made no statement on the opening of subsectoral negotiations.
The latest meeting to be held by the trade unions representing these sectors demonstrates full agreement on the objectives but differences over how to achieve them. CC.OO and UGT argue in favour of a return to industrial action. They propose starting with workplace meetings and union rallies, then progressing to demonstrations and the calling of a new strike in April or May before the Government starts to discuss the 1998 Budget. By contrast, CSI-CSIF wishes to postpone all pressurising measures until the first contacts with the Government have been made and its intentions with regard to the union proposals are known.
In summary, industrial action amongst civil servants is beginning to take off, and will escalate rapidly unless negotiations start soon. Furthermore, if no agreements are reached in these negotiations, all the civil service unions will be united in the call for further action.