Survey of collective bargaining in 1997

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According to a report on collective bargaining in Spain in 1997, conducted by the CEOE employers' confederation, changes have taken place in pay structure, involving an increase in the number of productivity bonuses and a reduction in the incidence of length-of-service payments. Clauses transforming temporary into secure jobs have had little effect despite the April 1997 intersectoral agreement for secure employment.

The Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales CEOE) has recently published a survey on collective bargaining in 1997, conducted during the period April-May. This study is of special interest because it attempts to detect the trends and transformations that have taken place since the reform of the Workers' Statute in 1994.

According to the report, a feature of today's collective agreement is that it is no longer just a "systematic agreement on wage increases" but that it is becoming a "management instrument at the service of companies and competitiveness" and a means for creating jobs. Another qualitative change is the reinforcement of the freedom of the social partners. Collective bargaining is becoming increasingly important across a wide range of provisions.

The study also reveals that the structure of collective bargaining is still unsatisfactory and complex, so the overlapping of the coverage of agreements continues to create legal insecurity. However, a trend towards decentralisation seems to be emerging, both in the structure and in the treatment of the topics that are negotiated.

Structure of collective bargaining

The figures show an increase in the number of company agreements, which rose from 2,376 in 1983 to 3,480 in 1996, though the number of workers affected fell from 1,074,500 to 957,000. The number of agreements reached at higher levels rose from 1,279 in 1983, affecting 5,151,600 workers, to 1,308 in 1996, affecting 6,894,200 workers. This may also be indicative of another incipient trend in the opposite direction from decentralisation: the centralisation and rationalisation of provincial sector agreements at a national level. Nevertheless, the fundamental feature is that today 85% of the agreements are still at a provincial level and cover 3 million workers. The "typical sector" in terms of collective bargaining is one that includes seven subsectors whose labour relations are regulated through two national agreements, seven regional agreements and 31 provincial agreements. This definition of the typical sector illustrates the overlapping, competition and legal insecurity created by the structure of collective bargaining.

Content of bargaining

The 1994 reform leaves the development of a large number of legal provisions to the freedom and responsibility of the negotiators. To be precise, 39 subjects were referred to collective bargaining. However, according to the CEOE survey, 62% of agreements do not use the full possibilities for decentralised and autonomous development of these subjects - and this includes even company agreements. On the contrary, the agreements merely refer to the provisions of the Workers' Statute.

Pay policy and job grading

Pay policy and job grading are considered two of the most important areas through which to increase the flexibility of human resources management. Companies try to link the pay structure to a flexible system of job grading, that is, to the definition of "occupational groups" which is found in 71% of the national sectoral agreements. It can be deduced that an important change has taken place in this area, especially if the repeal of the Labour Ordinances (the statutory regulations which until recently governed many aspects of terms and conditions in some sectors) is borne in mind, which led to a debate about job grading.

Job grading is related to internal promotion. On this point, the participation of the workers' representatives is low (found in only 17% of the agreements) with participation usually limited to claims for regrading.

The pay structure tends to be related to workers' productivity. In most agreements performance-related supplements are increasingly important, especially in company agreements (71%). The most important types are work-related supplements and attendance allowances, followed by profit-sharing, piecework, quality-related bonuses and general production bonuses.

At the same time, length-of-service payments are losing importance. One out of three sectoral agreements at a national level (36%) froze these payments in 1997. Nevertheless, length of service continues to be taken into account for the purposes of calculating compensation for dismissal. Length-of-service payments according to the number of years worked (eg, for three-, four- or six-year periods) have even been replaced by other clauses in some collective agreements. In many agreements that eliminate such payments some type of compensation, such as an increase in basic pay, is offered for the current year. Other changes are the freezing of supplements when they reach a given ceiling, the creation of alternative supplements and the recalculation of length-of-service payments according to a system that is less expensive for the companies involved.

Clauses on bonuses not directly linked to productivity, such as non-absence bonuses, attendance allowances and personal supplements, can be found in 20% of collective agreements.

Absenteeism is also increasingly regulated in collective agreements. It appears in 33% of the sectoral collective agreements at a national level, 26% of the regional agreements and 12% of the provincial agreements. In addition, 34% of the company agreements include some clause that attempts to reduce absenteeism. In short, it seems that greater attention is being paid to this subject.

Employment policy

In relation to employment, it seems that companies make no commitment on employment levels beyond the period of validity of collective agreements. In particular, they do not accept clauses that involve increases in labour costs that may endanger their competitiveness and make recruitment less flexible. There are few commitments to transform temporary jobs into permanent ones: this subject appears in only 2.5% of company agreements. Also, pacts on maintaining workforce levels appear in only 8% of the company agreements, and refer especially to the prohibition of entering into or negotiating redundancy procedure s during the validity of the agreement. On the other hand, 45% of the agreements include clauses that modify the duration of temporary contracts according to the peculiarities of the activity or the sector.

According to the 1997 figures, temporary employment does not seem to be on the decline. Provision for temporary contracts in circumstances required by production schedules or peak working times is included in no fewer than 69% of the national sectoral agreements. At other levels they are also widely used. The part-time contract is also becoming increasingly important: it appears in 29% of the national sector agreements and in 11% of the provincial ones. The contract for work or services seems to offer greater possibilities of regulation at the company level; it is perhaps the type of contract that has undergone most amendment and appears in 36% of the national sectoral agreements. Finally, the apprenticeship contract appears in 51% of the agreements.

The number of companies encouraging early retirement is increasing. Some 35% of the agreements prevent workers from continuing after retirement age. This can be linked to the strategy of reducing labour costs and seeking younger and better-trained staff who are more able to cope with technological and organisational modernisation.

Commentary

First, collective bargaining is insufficient to deal with the problems of employment. Even the transformation of temporary employment into secure employment has shown little progress. On the contrary, temporary employment is still high (33.6% of the labour force) and may continue through other formulae that allow better adaptation. Therefore, one must ask whether a gap is not opening between the strategic discourse of the CEOE, which tries to encourage secure employment in order to stimulate consumption, and individual companies, which pursue their own interests that have little to do with the strategic objectives contained in the April 1997 Intersectoral agreement for employment security (Acuerdo Interconfederal para el Empleo, AIEE) (ES9706211F).

Second, the decentralisation of collective bargaining and the increasing freedom of the social partners tend to bring labour relations down to the company level and to strengthen the negotiating position of the employers, and in some cases that of the skilled workers of large companies. Workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME s) and their representatives, however, are in a less favourable position. In the future it will be necessary to pay attention to the possible widening of the gap between working conditions in SMEs and in large companies.

Third, the 1994 reform of the Workers' Statute seems to be leading to increasing flexibility in the pay structure - linked to modifications of the job grading system - and to a change in the mechanisms of "labour discipline". Last, with respect to the structure of collective bargaining, it is possible that the discourse is very different from the reality. Whereas the CEOE - and at times the trade unions - seem to recognise the need to rationalise collective bargaining, especially at the sectoral regional (provincial) level, sectoral associations and companies carry out very different practices that focus on the region and on the immediate company environment. (A Martín Artiles, QUIT)

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