CGTP questions representativeness of social partners

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In late 1997, the CGTP trade union confederation has amplified its criticisms of Portugal's system of tripartite social concertation, pointing out anomalies, claiming that it is manipulated, and raising the issue of the social partners' representativeness.

During an important seminar recently organised by the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), the union criticised the country's system of tripartite social concertation, pointing out a number of anomalies in its institutional mechanisms and claiming that it was government-centred and an object of manipulation. The same union also raised the issue of representativeness with regard to the social partners.

CES and the Social Concertation Standing Committee

Constitutional Law No. 1/89 (the second revision of the 1976 Portuguese Constitution) set up an Economic and Social Council (Conselho Económico e Social, CES), described as a consultative and concertation body for social and economic policy. It was also intended to participate in creating plans for economic and social development in addition to other functions granted by law. In accordance with Article 95, the law was to be responsible for defining the membership of the CES, but the Constitution itself established from the outset that government representatives, organisations representing economic activities, the autonomous regions and local government would take part.

The same institutional law added a further provision to Article 56 of the Constitution ("Rights of trade union associations and collective bargaining") which made it a constitutional right of trade union associations to "be represented by social concertation bodies, under the terms of the law."

In June 1991, the Assembly of the Republic passed the law that oversees the membership, establishment and operation of the CES (Law 108/91). When the law took effect, the National Planning Council (Conselho Nacional do Plano) and the Council for Social Concertation (Conselho Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS) were dissolved. The latter Committee had been established in 1984 as a strictly tripartite forum (government and social partners). Its main mandates were consultation, dialogue, and tripartite concertation mainly in the areas of prices and incomes, employment and job training.

To start with, the CGTP refused to occupy the seats the law had granted it on the CPCS (the same number of places had been given to the General Workers' Union - União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). However, owing to the notoriety the CPCS gained after the signing of the first tripartite social concertation agreements, the CGTP decided to take its place after all.

After the establishment of the CES, the social partners feared that their influence would wane and weaken, since it was not a tripartite body. The CES includes representatives of other entities and organisations such as consumer interests, environmental groups, family support organisations, organisations representing liberal professionals and so on. They wanted the CPCS to function alongside the newly-established CES. The Government opposed their wishes on the basis that it would mean a duplication of organisations and functions.

These differences in opinion were overcome while negotiating the Economic and Social Agreement (Acordo Económico e Social), which was signed in October 1990 by the Government and the social partners (with the exception of the CGTP). During negotiations it was agreed that if the CPCS were to be dissolved, a totally autonomous social concertation committee would be established within the future CES, which would keep the same membership and functions as the CPCS.

The Assembly of the Republic agreed to this stipulation when it approved the bill governing the CES. It is precisely for this reason that the CES contains a strictly tripartite "Social Concertation Standing Committee" (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social, CPCS), unlike other committees on the Council which include, aside from the social partners, other entities and organisations. In addition, all decisions (exclusively consultative) made by these other committees must be approved by the "plenary" of the CES itself whilst decisions taken by the Social Concertation Standing Committee of the CES do not require approval from the plenary. This constitutes proof of the total autonomy of this Committee within the CES with regard to structure and function.

Scope of the Social Concertation Committee

Although the CGTP did not sign the Economic and Social Agreement of 1990, it was represented on the CES and its Social Concertation Standing Committee from the beginning. The Committee exercises consultative functions and aims at promoting social dialogue, but, on a practical level, its actual relevance stems from the tripartite social concertation agreements that it negotiates, which receive a great deal of attention by the media and the general public.

The most recent Strategic Social Pact (Acordo de Concertação Estratégica) signed in December 1996 by the Government and social partners (except the CGTP) established a Monitoring Committee (Comissão de Acompanhamento), whose general aim is to see that commitments assumed in the agreement are being honoured. The Government and social partners that signed also specifically made the Committee responsible for scrutinising preliminary draft laws that implied changes in labour legislation falling within the framework of the agreement.

Basis of CGTP's criticism

Given the above, it is easy to understand the reasons behind the CGTP's criticism. The CGTP is of the opinion that the consultative and social dialogue-promoting functions of the CPCS have been devalued and that the negotiation of tripartite social concertation agreements have taken precedence. The union confederation therefore believes that the Government uses the Committee exclusively for purposes of negotiating with the UGT and the three employers' confederations (PT9707128F).

The scope of the Monitoring Committee of the Strategic Social Pact impinges on the sphere of action of the CPCS, to which the CGTP belongs. This is why the CGTP believes that any possible consensus achieved in the Monitoring Committee is later brought before the CPCS only to decide whether the CGTP will sign or not.

It also becomes clear, given this context, why the CGTP has brought up the issue of representativeness as regards the social partners. The law confers upon the CGTP and the UGT equal representation on the CES and the CPCS. Yet there are no objective criteria to justify this, since Portuguese labour legislation has not established any to assess the representativeness of union organisations.

Commentary

The statement that there are no objective criteria to determine the representativeness of union and employer partners is correct. Over the years, lawmakers have shown no commitment to resolving this issue, leaving the social partners themselves with the duty of mutual recognition. However, this does not resolve the representativeness question with regard to unions or employers. Over the years there have been phases or periods of protest and phases or periods of "passive adjustment". Thus, it is likely that the recent criticism levelled at the problem by the leadership of the CGTP will spark the need for legislation that deals objectively with this delicate issue. However, it is very unlikely - precisely because the problem is so difficult - that any measures will be adopted in the near future. (Nascimento Rodrigues)

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