Bargaining, union elections and workforce reductions in banking

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Negotiations to revise the important collective agreement in Portugal's banking sector are deadlocked. The industry's largest trade union will soon hold its elections, but its socialist members are divided, while substantial workforce reductions have been announced for the coming years.

The banking sector's "vertical multi-employer agreement" (Acordo Colectivo de Trabalho Vertical, or ACTV) - the first of which goes back to 1938 - is negotiated between the three banking trade unions (for the North, Centre and South/Islands) and the credit institutions, which are represented by a panel of negotiators. These three trade unions were pioneers in Portugal's trade union history, and union density is high in the sector.

Recently, a fourth union was established - the Banking Staff and Technicians' National Trade Union- but it is less representative and is not affiliated to a major union confederation, while the other three trade unions are affiliated to the General Workers' Union (UGT).

Negotiations to revise the ACTV have lasted for more than two months. The trade unions have already claimed: a 5.2% pay rise; the introduction of a 15th month's payment; the extension of paid annual holidays to 25 working days; an increase in subsistence bonuses and benefits; and improvements in career progression. The employers' panel rejected the trade unions' demands and proposed: a 1.25% pay rise; reduced automatic career progression; greater geographical mobility, greater flexibility in working hours; and new rules to define "length of service" (for new employees it wants to count only time served with the current employer and to exclude time served in the sector but with other employers).

Agreement has been difficult to reach. The employers' panel has currently raised its offer to a 2.75% pay rise, and the trade unions have decided to reduce their claim to 4.25%.

The negotiating context is conditioned by the forthcoming trade union elections in April 1997 in two of the unions involved - the South and Islands Banking Union (Sindicato dos Bancários do Sul e Ilhas) - the most important - and the Banking Trade Unions of the Centre (Sindicatos Bancários do Centro). In the South and Islands union, the current union officials emerged from a coalition of socialist and communist trade unionists, whereas the Centre union is directed by the socialist tendency. In the North union, where elections will take place at the end of the year, the social-democrats are predominant but the officials are socialist.

With regard to the elections in the South and Islands Banking Union, the socialist tendency has split into two groups. One group (predominantly socialist, led by the present union's present leader) is forming an alliance with the social-democrat tendency, while the other acts jointly with the communist trade unionists.

The negotiation process has also been influenced by alarming news in the mass media. According to news reports, over the coming years between 12,000 and 18,000 bank workers will be made redundant, owing to streamlined business procedures and more intense competition. That news has created much anxiety amongst the trade unions. They have been organising peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra, and denouncing what they see as the "scandal" of the banks' illegal non-payment of overtime.

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