Unions present agendas for 2000-1

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In September 2000, Portugal's main trade union confederations, CGTP and UGT, presented their demands and policies for 2000/1. Although the two confederations are pursuing the same basic objectives - such as higher wages and greater equality - there are points specific to each.

In early September 2000, the two main trade union confederations, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT), presented their platforms of policy demands for 2001 and the remainder of 2000.

For UGT, Portugal's incomes policy cannot be taken out of the European context in terms of sustainable development and economic and social cohesion. After 14 years of Portuguese integration in the EU and now membership of the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), developmental differences are still evident: while nominal convergence with the other Member States grows, real convergence has made less satisfactory progress. According to UGT:

  • in 1999, domestic per capita income rose again, but was heavily affected by the fact that inflation exceeded government predictions (PT0009110N);
  • Portugal continues to be the country with the lowest minimum wage in the EU, both in nominal terms and in terms of purchasing power parities;
  • in general, wage increases have not been sufficient to cover increases in the cost of borrowing, resulting from rising interest rates;
  • the economic growth differential between Portugal and the rest of the EU has grown smaller in the past few years; and
  • according to Eurostat data for 1996, Portugal is the EU country with the greatest inequality in the distribution of income, a fact that is attributed to the country's high poverty rate and low wages.

The UGT agenda

In the light of the economic and social context outlined above, UGT states in its platform of demands that the government should "implement a concerted, overall economic policy that will promote strong economic growth, generate jobs and target the real convergence of wages and pensions, allowing them to reach more quickly EU averages and by thus doing, guarantee a more just and equitable domestic distribution of income". UGT also believes that collective bargaining will play a vital role in the process of convergence. The deepening of Portugal's process of nominal and real convergence toward the EU average will require:

  • an increase in the statutory national minimum wage. The rise should be such as to combat the negative pull of the national minimum wage on average pay and ensure that in four year's time, the minimum wage equals 60% of the average wage;
  • an increase in pensions. Pensions lower than the national minimum wage should be indexed to the national minimum wage, in accordance with the contribution history of those involved;
  • an increase in family benefits. Family social security benefits for dependants should be upgraded by 4% for those in the upper income bracket, 6% for the middle income bracket and 8% for the middle income bracket;
  • tax reform. Such a reform should provide for a fair balance of taxation between factors of production and wealth, in order to reduce the tax burden on dependent workers, as well as creating stable employment by means of tax breaks and incentives and eliminating the high rates of tax fraud and evasion;
  • fair immigration policies. "Guest workers" have provided an importance boost to the domestic labour force. Therefore, Portugal needs an immigration policy that will guarantee respect for the fundamental employment rights of such workers; and
  • further guarantees of equal treatment and equal opportunities in the labour market. UGT favours the continuing promotion of equal treatment and equal opportunities for men and women in order to combat wage discrimination.

In brief, UGT main lines of action are aimed at:

  • achieving greater dignity at work;
  • combating illegality in employment;
  • creating a genuine system of industrial relations.

The CGTP agenda

In its demands for 2001, CGTP also highlights: the slow growth in income; the rise in inflation; the increase in interest rates; dramatic wage differences and discrepancies; low wages; and labour shortages and the subsequent use of immigrant workers, and family indebtedness. CGTP thus demands the following set of changes that it hopes will contribute toward increased wages and an improved standard of living:

  • an increase in the national minimum wage. This should be such as to ensure that the minimum wage eventually reaches two-thirds of the national average wage;
  • statutory working time reduction. Like UGT, CGTP is seeking a normal maximum working time of 35 hours, plus five weeks of holidays for all workers;
  • combating precarious and clandestine work. Given the increase in such forms of employment, the need for jobs with better conditions and more rights is emphasised;
  • better implementation of labour law. CGTP claims that many employment regulations are not being enforced and the labour administration should should intervene more vigorously to assure that legislation is applied. More effective punitive action should be taken, the new statute of the General Labour Inspectorate (Inspecção Geral do Trabalho) should come into force, and the labour courts should be freed from "red tape" and made to function more efficiently;
  • improving qualifications and skills. For CGTP, better jobs also entails improving workers' qualifications, which will help Portugal combat the problems of an outdated productive structure and industries which are based on low wages and low skills;
  • promoting equality;
  • promoting rights and bargaining. Respect for the collective rights of workers and the promotion of free collective bargaining are seen as fundamental to any strategy aimed at assuring better jobs;
  • improved health and safety. The high rate of work-related accidents demands the creation of a culture of prevention, far-reaching plans for intervention, more vigorous action in the sectors where accidents are most prevalent and the development of organisational plans that will promote workplace safety; and
  • tax reform. Like UGT, CGTP stresses the urgent need for a tax reform to guarantee greater fairness. It wants a tax cut on earned income, a more equitable income tax system in general and a better balance between direct and indirect taxation and the taxation of earned income and other sources of income.

Commentary

The backdrop to the trade union confederations demands for 2000/1 is a scenario in which precarious employment and the "parallel economy" form the background for the current low level of unemployment, while the discussion of the 2001 national budget draws near. The unions are seeking a quick response to deal with the economic situation at hand - a response which is wide-ranging and includes wage, tax, and social security issues. (Ana Isabel Almeida)

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