Special clauses and new trends in collective bargaining in Spain

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There has been an increase in the number of Spanish collective agreements with "special clauses" as a result of the labour reforms of 1994 and 1997, according to reports on bargaining published in late 1997. The latest topics covered by these clauses are functional and geographical mobility, controlling overtime, secure employment and pensions.

Towards the end of 1997, as is customary, trade unions and employers' organisations, the Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social) and the Ministry of Labour reported on trends in the content of collective agreements. One of these reports, presented by the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (Comisiones Obreras), states that agreements have already been negotiated in 1997 covering some 6,233,727 workers - about 80% of those whose working conditions are regulated by agreement. It is therefore possible to evaluate the situation without a great margin of error, since there now remain few agreements to be negotiated. There will be little variation in the main trends that have been observed since 1994.

The bargaining reports presented by the social partners highlight important new aspects, including the growing importance of the so-called "special clauses" on geographical and functional mobility, controlling overtime, converting temporary jobs into permanent jobs and the social benefit supplements.

Geographical and functional mobility

Provisions on functional and geographical mobility are new and may indicate the progress of technological and organisational changes in companies. The two labour market reforms, in 1994 and 1997, paved the way for the introduction of functional and geographical mobility in order to facilitate flexible management of the workforce. In 1994 only 8.9% of agreements included a clause on geographical mobility, affecting only 664,000 workers; by 1995 this figure had increased to 14%, affecting 1,067,000 workers; and by 1996 to 21.6%, affecting 1,579,000 workers. That is to say, such clauses now affect one out of five wage earners covered by collective agreements.

Clauses on functional labour mobility within the workplace and the definition of the responsibilities of each occupational grade are also becoming increasingly widespread. In 1994 only 12.3% of agreements had such a clause. By 1995 this figure had risen to 17.2% and by 1996 to 23%. In other words the number of workers affected has risen from 925,000 to 1,680,000.

Furthermore, the definition of responsibilities, which was for many years considered as a "rigid" point in the management of the workforce, is also following the same trend. The number of workers affected rose from 756,000 in 1994 to 1,484,000 in 1996. In most cases, the redefinition of the responsibilities of occupational grades is linked to the introduction of new technology or new forms of work organisation.

Controlling overtime

With regard to working hours, collective agreements have been aimed particularly at controlling overtime. This is a particular concern of the trade unions that is included in the intersectoral agreement for employment security (acuerdo intersectoral para la estabilidad en el empleo), one of the three agreements concluded in April 1997 reforming the labour market (ES9706211F). Recent figures show that the percentage of agreements containing clauses dealing with a reduction in overtime had increased from 2.3% in 1994 to 3.5% in 1996. The number of agreements containing clauses dealing with the elimination of overtime was more variable: 10.5% in 1994, 12.9% in 1995 and 9.9% in 1996. On this point the trend is rather erratic, particularly bearing in mind that in 1997 there has been an increase in the amount of overtime worked. Only 1.9% of workers are affected by reductions that fall below the maximum legal limit .

Temporary into permanent jobs

Turning temporary jobs into open-ended ones is without doubt one of the major points in collective agreements and its importance is increasing. In 1996 only 2.9% of agreements established a commitment to create jobs and 4.6% to maintain jobs, but 8.1% accepted the conversion of temporary jobs into permanent jobs. Since 1994, agreements have led to the conversion of 164,456 temporary jobs into permanent jobs. This phenomenon has taken place mainly in industry and amongst men, who took up 68.4% of these converted contracts, compared with 31.6% for women.

The trade unions intend to demand compensation for workers on temporary contracts to force their conversion into secure contracts. They therefore have a very specific calendar for the introduction of conversion clauses, which would begin with the collective bargaining round in 1998. To a certain extent, this involves the introduction of a "punishment" for hiring temporary staff in order to avoid abuses and to reap the greatest possible benefit from the conversion agreement that forms part of the multi-Industry agreement of 1997.

Clauses on pensions

Despite the recommendations of the CEOE employers' confederation, collective agreements are increasingly including clauses related to supplementary social security benefits. Some 53% of agreements contained such clauses in 1994, and 64% in 1996. The most important benefits are retirement supplements, which appeared in 25% of agreements in 1996. This is associated with an organisational policy aimed at promoting early retirement which appears in 34% of agreements, covering 2,530,000 workers.

Clauses related to invalidity are second in order of importance: 23% of agreements in 1996 included invalidity supplements, and 48% provided supplements for industrial accidents. These two clauses are related to a sad reality: the increase in the number of industrial accidents over the last few years. This is at the same time associated with the high rates of temporary employment and the lack of training and occupational experience caused by insecure employment.

Commentary

We are now seeing the clear emergence of certain trends that had begun to build up since the labour market reforms of 1994 and 1997. Their general characteristics include the strengthening of the autonomy of the social partners, a greater degree of freedom to negotiate and extend the content of agreements, and a reinforcement of the role of collective bargaining as a procedure for regulating labour relations. This is shown by the increasing importance of "special clauses" which introduce a new dynamism into collective bargaining and will be a focus of attention over the next few years .

However, the model of negotiation based on the autonomy of the social partners and less intervention by the administration involves new risks. One such risk is the lack of protection for workers in small companies in which there is hardly any union representation and labour relations are subject to de facto unilateral management regulation. This is a topic that is particularly important in a country such as Spain with a high proportion of small companies. (Antonio Martín Artiles, QUIT)

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