Renewal of the Spanish system of occupational classification

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The renewal of the Spanish system of occupational classification is marked by the change from the old system of "Labour Ordinances", which were established by law, to a new classification system based on occupational groupings, which is the result of collective bargaining. This process has been accelerated by the labour reforms of the 1990s: the 1994 reform established a deadline for the replacement of the Ordinances, and the 1997 reform established an agreement on occupational classification for those sectors in which one had not yet been established.

The former occupational classification system

Up until 31 December 1995 the Spanish system of occupational classification was based on legal regulations established at sectoral level, called "Labour Ordinances", which largely defined labour relations and conditions in companies in each sector of production.

Labour Ordinances originated in labour regulations imposed by the Franco regime at the end of the Spanish Civil War. They were first enacted in 1942 and stipulated labour relations between workers and employers, sector by sector. Most working conditions in companies were established by these Labour Ordinances except for wages which, in 1958, began to be negotiated, though within a very restricted framework imposed on the social partners.

Although some reforms to this system were carried out in the early 1970s at the end of the Franco regime, the prevailing system had the following features:

  • it was established by law without the intervention of the social partners. It reflected an interventionist concept, under which the state regulated working conditions and there was no union freedom or representation;
  • it was a rigid system based on a Taylorist view of the division of labour, establishing a fixed correspondence between job grade, occupational classification and wages; and
  • it was a system adapted to the management of an unskilled workforce that learned its trade on the job rather than through training.

During the transition to democracy the whole system of labour relations was reformed and, especially after the adoption of the new Workers' Statute in 1980 (an Act that still regulates basic labour relations), the Labour Ordinances became obsolete. The social partners and the Government agreed that they needed to be replaced by incorporating them into collective agreements at sectoral level. However, more than 10 years later only a very small number of Ordinances had been renewed through collective bargaining between the social partners. Therefore, in 1994, on the occasion of the reform of some of the articles of the Workers' Statute, the Ministry of Employment imposed a deadline for the repeal of the old Ordinances, which could be extended until 31 December 1995.

The old Ordinances have thus been incorporated into collective bargaining in most sectors. In some sectors they have been updated by eliminating their most obsolete aspects whilst conserving their overall structure, whereas in sectors such as metalworking, chemicals and textiles there has been a profound reorganisation of the whole system. However, when the deadline established for the final repeal of the Ordinances arrived, some sectors had still not managed to reach agreement. To fill this gap in the legislation, the recent agreement on labour reform concluded in April 1997 (ES9706211F) established a frame of reference for these particular sectors.

From categories to occupational groupings

In Spain there is therefore no single system regulating occupational classification: each sector has set up its own, and there is a frame of reference for the rest. Most sectors have abandoned the system based on occupational categories identified with a specific post and have replaced it with a system of occupational groupings classified by level. The types of grouping and the number of levels differ from sector to sector. Most sectors have also established a differentiation of occupational grouping by basic company function, such as production, administration and sales.

The occupational levels tend to correspond to salary levels. Thus, the classification of a worker determines the amount of his or her basic pay. In some cases more than one pay level can be established within the same occupational level, especially in some company agreements.

The occupational groupings, on the other hand, establish the basic limits of occupational mobility - that is, the occupational area that a worker can cover without applying for reclassification. The most important innovation introduced by the new classification systems is the wider and more multiskilled concept of the occupational grouping as the basis of classification, which goes beyond the Tayloristic concept of the specific post.

The criteria used to establish the classification of the groupings tend to follow similar standards across different sectors, based on a series of factors. The most common of these factors are: responsibility, training, initiative, autonomy, complexity and experience.


The replacement of the system of occupational classification by categories with a set of sectoral systems of occupational groupings has been an enormously positive step towards facilitating internal flexibility in the organisation of labour, multiskilling of workers and company productivity. The application of the new system, however, faces several problems.

  • The delay in the replacement of the old system of Ordinances led large companies to introduce their own replacement for the classification systems, and these do not always coincide with those that have now been agreed at a sectoral level; a progressive adjustment will therefore be necessary. In small and medium-sized enterprises, the old system had been adapted "according to the needs of each company" and it will now be difficult to adapt it to the new agreements. It is therefore to be expected that a long period of adaptation will be necessary in which the new sectoral systems will have to coexist alongside the old company systems.
  • The important change in the concept of the classification system is intended to reduce the volume of individual requests for reclassification, which was very large due to the great inflexibility of the old system. However, it will be necessary to communicate the new concepts to labour tribunals so that they can adapt their criteria for interpreting the new sectoral agreements.

The new classification systems open the doors to a more flexible recognition of qualifications. However, a system that links occupational experience and skills with the qualifications provided through the training systems in an attempt to improve the occupational competence of the active workforce, has yet to be developed. (Oriol Homs, Fundación CIREM)

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