Base-line income system established

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The Portuguese Government is planning to extend its "base-line" minimum income system to the whole country, and there are calls for greater involvement by the social partners in its operation.

The establishment of the "base-line" minimum guaranteed income system (Rendimento Minimo Garantido, or RMG) was included in the manifesto of the current Socialist Government, which was elected for a four-year term in October 1995. The RMG was held up as one of its most important innovations in social policy, in line with Recommendation 92/441/EEC of the EU Council of Ministers, on sufficient resources and social assistance in social protection schemes, which called for a right to a minimum base-line income to cover essential needs as part of member states' social security systems. The RMG is therefore quite separate from the Portugal's national minimum wage (salario minimo garantido), which covers the minimum rates that employers must pay their employees (see Record PT9702102F).

The launch of the RMG was expressly included as one of the social security measures set out in the tripartite national "Short-Term Social Concertation Agreement" negotiated in the Standing Committee for Social Dialogue of the Economic and Social Council on 24 January 1996. It was agreed by the Government, the three employers' confederations - CIP (industry), CAP (agriculture) and CCP (commerce) - and the UGT (General Workers' Union) trade union confederation.

The RMG was formally enacted by Law 19-A/96 of 29 June 1996. However, a pilot stage was to precede its actual introduction, so as to establish the conditions required to ensure an even-handed approach to its administration and development. Therefore, between 1 July 1996 and 1 July 1997, the RMG is being introduced through a series of experimental social action pilot schemes (governed by Order no. 237-A/96 of 1 July 1996).

Referring to this experimental phase, the recent "Short-Term Strategic Social Pact" - negotiated at the end of 1996 - also includes a reference to the RMG and provides for the "systematic monitoring of the RMG's experimental phase, coordinated with policies to develop employment and skills". This pact was also agreed under the aegis of the Economic and Social Council by the Government and employers' and union confederations, except for the CGTP (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers)

Promoting social integration through work

Created as one of the means of combating poverty and exclusion from society, the RMG is based on the implementation of two interconnected mechanisms: the provision of a cash benefit, which is variable and temporary, and a social integration programme. The former is aimed at ensuring that the minimum needs of individuals and their families are met. The latter is aimed at their gradual integration into work and society, mainly through employment. In this respect, it is worth noting that Portugal has chosen to follow the model contained in the EU Council Recommendation, whereby in most situations the awarding of a base-line income should be dependent on active availability for work or vocational training, with the aim of securing a job.

This means that the RMG has been conceived as an element in the fight against marginalisation by ensuring the integration of individuals into society, preferably through work, by obtaining a job or at least by establishing the conditions required to secure employment. Such conditions will be attainable by attending vocational training activities or by making use of the education system, or alternatively by taking up designated temporary jobs. These may help beneficiaries either to move into the labour market itself or to readjust to the world of work.

Involvement of the social partners

The link between the RMG and the labour market is one of the main reasons for the institutional involvement of the social partners in the system. Indeed, the assumption that underpins the RMG is that, as an element in the social security system, individuals can be integrated into society through work and so become well-rounded people with paid jobs either as employees or as entrepreneurs. Thus, trade union and employers' confederations are members of the National Commission for the Base-line Income (CNRM), the organisation responsible for applying the law governing the RMG. Moreover, employers' and union associations also have the chance to sit on local monitoring committees, which are municipally based and responsible for approving social integration programmes, organising the means necessary for carrying out such programmes and evaluating their implementation.

In the first six months of the experimental phase of the RMG, several dozen pilot schemes were launched, covering over 100 municipal boroughs. According to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security, the launch phase has been highly successful, enabling it to guarantee that by the end of the experimental period the RMG will be extended to cover the whole of Portugal.

A significant contribution to the success of these initial experiments was made by the hard work of local authorities and a number of private social welfare institutions, as well as the activities of organisations linked to the ministries involved in the RMG system.

However, the chair of the CNRM notes that the involvement of companies and union associations in the pilot schemes was not particularly great, and that more interest on the part of the social partners in introducing the RMG needs to be encouraged, as the question of social integration is not just a problem for the state, but also for society and the market. The main difficulties encountered in introducing the projects were in the major urban centres, particularly in and around Lisbon and Porto. Pedro Furtado Martins

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