First agreement reached after labour reform

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The Spanish chemicals sector agreement signed in April 1997 takes into account the national agreement on labour market reform recently concluded by unions and employers, with respect to types of employment contract and temporary employment agencies

On 23 April 1997, the 11th general agreement in the chemicals sector was signed, the first important agreement to be reached in Spain after the recent labour market reform known as theInterconfederal agreement on employment stability (ES9704207N).

The chemicals sector agreement is important not only because it represents one of the main industrial sectors in the country and employs almost 200,000 workers, but also because it has played a major part in the promotion of collective bargaining in recent times - being one of the major areas of union activity. In the chemicals industry, there has been a single national sectoral agreement since 1978, one of the few of this type. The agreement has also managed to include a series of subsectors that previously had their own agreements. (As an alternative to reducing labour relations to the company level, sectoral agreements at national level are often presented as preferable to those concluded at provincial or Autonomous Community level. Sectoral agreements at subnational and company level are seen as complementary to the national sectoral agreement and may only improve their terms and conditions.)

The chemicals agreement's references to the recently signed national reform deal mainly with two aspects: types of employment contract and temporary employment agencies (TEA s).

One of the main aims of the Interconfederal agreement for employment stability is to increase the incidence of secure employment. It lays down that, provided qualifications are equal, permanent contracts must be given preferentially to workers who already have non-permanent jobs in the company (fixed-term contracts, part-time contracts, apprenticeship contracts or work experience contracts). Furthermore, workers' representatives will have the right to be informed of the posts to be filled, the terms and conditions and the tests that are required. They will also be entitled to issue reports on these issues.

The chemicals agreement defines the types of non-permanent contracts that can be signed. With respect to fixed-term employees, it is agreed that they will have "the same rights and equal treatment in industrial relations as the other workers in the company". The maximum duration is the one laid down by the interconfederal agreement. With respect to "contracts for jobs or services", it is agreed that they must be restricted to tasks that are limited in time and duration, and that the worker representatives will be informed of the reason for using these contracts, the working conditions and the number of workers affected.

The clauses referring to the use of temporary employment agencies are more significant. The workers of TEAs that provide services in companies in the chemicals sector will receive at least the minimum agreed pay of the job grade to which their activity belongs. Furthermore, they will be represented by the delegates orworkers' committee s of the user company with respect to the monitoring of working conditions, training and health and safety at work.

With respect to employment contracts, the chemicals agreement does not offer substantial improvements to the prevailing legislation, the 1980 Workers' Statute. However, workers' representatives have obtained greater control over the application of this legislation. This is an extremely important question in a context in which the growth of insecure employment over recent years could be explained to a large extent by the non-fulfilment of the regulations on specific forms of contract. In the chemical sector, which has a relatively high union membership and a low proportion of small companies, the monitoring of this agreement can be guaranteed. In other sectors the situation would be different.

Of greater importance for the chemicals sector is the section dealing with TEAs, since the agreement provides that some important conditions of these workers must be equal to those of the user company, and that they must have representatives to defend their rights. The TEAs are thus forced to observe minimum labour rights.

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