Protests end as agreement is reached at Telefónica

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In July 1999, after long-running protest actions, three trade unions - UGT, CC.OO and UTS - reached agreement with Telefónica, the Spanish telecommunications provider. The unions have agreed a redundancy procedure affecting 10,800 workers and a new collective agreement that guarantees the employment and working conditions of the rest of the employees.

Telefónica held a monopoly in the Spanish telecommunications sector until December 1998. Since 1996 - when the liberalisation of the sector began - the trade unions have opposed the privatisation of Telefónica from the viewpoint of both workers and consumers. Demonstrations, lock-ins, occupations, strikes and court cases have characterised their protests, which escalated in November and December 1998 after the unions agreed to act in unison (ES9901294F). In 1999, the action included three general strikes - on 14 January, 11 February and 26 March - focusing mainly on the employment and industrial relations effects of the liberalisation of the sector and the privatisation of Telefónica.

The main demands of the trade unions' protest actions have been to:

  • stop the increase in unstable employment due to the lack of regulation in the sector, where the only collective agreements are those at Telefónica and its group companies;
  • hinder Telefónica's segregation of its business, creation of subsidiaries and increase in outsourcing, allegedly intended to avoid labour regulations;
  • block changes in the award of work contracts to installation companies, which allegedly give priority to reducing costs over professional competence and quality, and are leading to the destruction of 10,000 stable jobs; and
  • contain the job losses at Telefónica, which are estimated to involve 10,000 jobs (in addition to 20,000 in the three previous years) through voluntary redundancies, pre-retirement and early retirement.

However, over time the unions' demands have focused increasingly on the problems of Telefónica workers, and in particular those in its core business, fixed telephony. These have involved: negotiation of a plan to establish the necessary activities and workforce, clearing up the uncertainty about the future of the workers who remain within the company; negotiation of labour issues; and respect for the principles of voluntarism and non-discrimination in all practices.

Finally, in July 1999, the majority trade unions on the Telefónica multi-plant workers' committee- UGT, CC.OO and UTS- signed pacts with the company on both the redundancies (which will affect 10,849 workers) and on a new collective agreement. In exchange, the management of Telefónica has improved the economic conditions for pre-retirement (ES9906136N) and has guaranteed to suspend segregation and the restructuring of personnel over the next three years. It has also agreed to: create 1,000 new jobs with the same working conditions as the rest of the workforce; reinforce training plans in order to guarantee the functional mobility of all workers; and respect the principles of voluntarism and non-discrimination in all processes, in particular giving up obligatory geographical and functional mobility. Wage increase will be 1.8% above the expected increase in the retail prices index, though this rise will be linked to an increase in productivity and the attainment of objectives. A study group has been created for the introduction of the 35-hour working week. Two minority unions - CGT and SATT- have refused to sign these pacts. The unions' demands regarding working conditions in the other companies of the Telefónica group and in the rest of the sector appear to have been sidelined. (Clara Llorens, QUIT-UAB)

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