Further debate on working time flexibility law

Download article in original language : PT9812117NPT.DOC

The issues of how working time is calculated and what constitutes full-time work were once again under debate in Portugal in late 1998. The debate was revived because of the relationship between the contents of Law 21/96 on the 40-hour working week and Law 73/98, adopted in November 1998, which transposes the 1993 EU working time Directive.

Law No. 73/98 of 10 November 1998 seeks to transpose into Portuguese law the 1993 EU Council Directive on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC). The legislation includes in the calculation of working time: those "interruptions to work" that are laid down in collective agreements or have been established in companies by custom and repeated use; and "sporadic interruptions of daily work" to satisfy worker needs that cannot be postponed, or those tolerated or granted by the employer.

The new law has revived arguments about how working time is calculated and what constitutes full-time work. Trade unions claim that the law clarifies which rest periods are considered part of actual working time. For the employers' part, the Confederation of Portuguese Industry (Confederação da Indústria Portuguesa, CIP) states that the new legislation will alter Law 21/96 on the 40-hour working week (PT9712154F) and undermine previous collective bargaining provisions on the concept of "full-time work."

The Ministry of Labour and Solidarity (Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade, MTS) has maintained that the "definition" of full-time work is that laid down in law No. 21/96, and that in matters relating to reduction of the normal working period, the 40-hour week law has precedence over any other concept of working time. According to law No. 21/96, periods of full-time work should be defined as "not including any work interruptions, arising from agreements, work regulations or the law, which involve stopping the work task or replacing the worker " (PT9703110N).

Both trade unions and employers expect serious conflicts over this issue, especially in the footwear and garment-making sectors where strikes have already been announced. In the footwear sector, there are two 10-minute rest periods a day that, according to the unions' interpretation, should be considered as working time.

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) states that the government's position is the same as that of employers' organisations, supporting a compromise established in the 1996-9 tripartite Strategic Concertation Pact (Acordo de Concertação Estratégica). However, the union confederation asserts that the government must not confuse political compromises with interpretation of the law. It must take into account that law No. 73/98 was linked to the 40-hour week law. The new law was recently the subject of public discussion, and during parliamentary debate an addendum was made that deals with rest breaks. At that time no questions were raised. The CGTP is seeking support from the Ombudsman.

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