Collective bargaining and strikes in the first quarter of 1997

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The incidence of collective bargaining across a variety of sectors in Portugal has tended slightly to decrease in the first quarter of 1997. However, at the same time, the number of strikes has been increasing - often to enforce reductions in working time

Collective agreements

The Ministry for Training and Employment has published the following statistics covering the number of collective agreements concluded during the first quarter of 1997.

Collective agreements Number
Total 47
Sector-level agreements (or association agreement s) (contratos colectivos) 31
Multi-employer agreement s (that is, those agreements not covering the entire sector) (acordos colectivos) 1
Company-level agreement s (acordos de empresa) 15

These data refer to collective agreements published by the Ministry (official publication is required by law in order to ensure that the terms and conditions settled in collective agreements have legal status in individual contracts of employment). In fact, over this three-month period, the number of collective agreements already concluded but not yet published is much higher.

Almost all the agreements award pay increases; these cover 336,035 employees. This is lower than the equivalent figure for 1996 (474,725 employees) and for the same three-month periods in 1995 and 1994. Just two of the 47 agreements - those for footwear and construction - cover 71% of the total number of employees. The average annual pay rise warded is 3.6%, in contrast to a 3.2% rise in the consumer prices index.

Strikes up

According to further data from the Ministry, there has been a substantial increase in the number of strikes over the first quarter of 1997 compared with equivalent figures for the last five years, as can be seen from the following table:

Year Strikes first quarter
1993 72
1994 115
1995 109
1996 65
1997 125 (provisional data)

Source: Strike figures collected by the Department of Statistics - 1993/6.

Strike notices have been issued mainly by the unions in manufacturing industries: 15.5% have come from the textile industry; 13.5% from chemicals; 10.0% from electricity; and 9.5% from the metalworking and processing industries. Other sectors affected have included telecommunications (13.5%) and hotels and catering (7%).

In Portugal, under the terms of the Strike Act (Law No. 65/77 of 26 August 1977 as amended by Law No. 30/92 of 20 October 1992), any body with a recognised right to call a strike must issue an advance notice of a minimum of five days of its intention to strike (10 days' notice in the case of organisations that provide services to the community) submitted either to the employer or to the employers' association and to the Ministry for Training and Employment through some official channel, such as a letter or press release.

In the first quarter of 1997, every strike was preceded by such an advance notice, though some of them never took place and others were just token strikes. In many cases, the same trade unions called several times for brief strikes of a few hours against the same employers. It may be assumed that the workers' demands were not initially accepted in such cases and so action was called again as a way to keep up the pressure on the employers.

Workers' objectives in calling strikes were directed mainly at supporting claims relating to working time and wages. Significant issues, insofar as working time is concerned, include the following.

  1. The organisation of working time - rosters, shiftwork, overtime and so on - which lay behind many strikes particularly in transport and telecommunications.
  2. Short-time working claims related to the application of Law No. 21/96 on short-time and working time flexibility. The problems and disputes occurred principally in textiles and footwear and were connected to the failure to enforce the Law and to certain discrepancies in the interpretation of "effective working hours".

Insofar as pay is concerned, workers' claims are related not only to the implementation of previous collective agreements but also to negotiation of agreements still underway.

  1. Claims about delayed payment of wages and Christmas bonuses emerged mainly in textiles, hotels and catering, and chemicals. Demands resisting reductions in the workforce were noteworthy in the chemical, metalworking and process industries.
  2. Pay claims occurred frequently in metalworking, the process industry, services, commerce, electricity and electronics.

Other demands centred on bargaining procedures governing pay, other bonuses and benefits, career progression, freedoms, guarantees and trade union rights. These demands were usually focused on metalworking and the process industry, followed, at a lower level, by chemicals, amongst others.


Although the number of agreements (and the number of employees covered by those agreements) is less than that for the first quarter of 1996, there is no evidence that there is any kind of special difficulty in collective bargaining. The statistical data reveal that it is not until July and August that the great bulk of collective agreements are concluded and published.

Pay rises are in line with the 3.5% guideline recommended by the Strategic Social Pact (Acordo de Concertação Estratégica) signed on 20 December 1996 by the Government, the General Workers' Union (UGT) and the three employers' confederations covering agriculture (CAP), industry (CIP) and commerce (CCP). These rises are above the rate of inflation in the first quarter of 1997, which has been declining. On the other hand, several collective agreements grant pay rises above 3.5% when other benefits, bonuses, supplements and so on are taken into account.

As a general rule, collective bargaining is conducted at sector level at the expense of the enterprise or company level.

Strikes rarely take place during the course of bargaining at sectoral level. They take place mainly in companies in order to exert pressure to enforce legally binding agreements or other demands. For example, workers may call strikes on Saturdays for between 30 minutes or two hours thereby reducing working time, allowing workers to take part in rallies and forcing employers to comply with the law on the 40-hour week. Indeed, although it is still too early to establish whether or not there is a real causal link between the negotiation of general agreements and the increase of the number of strikes, it is possible to say that a large number of strikes were indeed called in support of the enforcement of this law. (Pedro Furtado Martins, Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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