EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Ultra-activity

Ultra-activity is a characteristic of collective bargaining related to its duration. According to the principle of ultra-activity, a collective agreement will remain applicable beyond its expiration or termination date if a new collective agreement has not been reached. The extension of the collective agreement can therefore either be limited to the time necessary to renew a collective agreement, or it can be agreed ex ante between workers’ representatives and employers. In some countries, ultra-activity is mandatory by law and applies to all collective agreements. In other countries, ultra-activity is based on an agreement between trade unions and employers that negotiate the terms for such extensions.

The application of ultra-activity is designed to guarantee the conditions agreed for workers and provide incentives for trade unions and employers to negotiate a new collective agreement on good faith. In practical terms, it provides a form of income security for workers, performing a similar function to a minimum wage.

Ultra-activity clauses exist in many countries, though there is significant variation in terms of how they work and their extension. In the context of the 2008 economic and financial crisis, ultra-activity clauses were under significant pressure in some countries as they were considered an impediment to downward wage adjustment. This is because ultra-activity implies the negotiation of additional gains for trade unions in the forthcoming negotiation of a collective agreement.

Retro-activity

A similar principle to ultra-activity is retro-activity. The principle of retro-activity applies in the extension of the provisions of a newly signed agreement to a period before the agreement’s actual signature or extension (usually to the period between the expiration of the previous agreement and the entry into force of the new one). It may therefore imply the payment of arrears corresponding to the wage increases for the period for which it has been extended. The rationale behind retro-activity is to ensure that a level playing field between signatory and non-signatory firms is preserved.

See also: collective bargaining; trade unions

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