Collective bargaining in the first half of 2001 examined

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The number of collective agreements concluded in Portugal in the first six months of 2001 increased by some 16% compared with the same period in 2000, and a degree of innovation was witnessed in the content of the agreements. However, the government and social partners are calling for changes to the regulation and operation of the collective bargaining system.

In summer 2001, the General Directorate for Working Conditions (Direcção Geral das Condições de Trabalho, DGCT) at the Ministry of Labour and Solidarity published statistics on the main features of collective bargaining in the first half of 2001.

Bargaining activity and levels

Table 1 below compares the number of collective agreements registered and published by DGCT in the first half of 2001 with those registered in the same period in 2000. The number of agreements was up by 16% in 2001 in relation to the same period in the previous year.

Table 1. Collective agreements registered in the first half of 2000 and of 2001

. First half 2000 First half 2001
Sectoral agreements (contrato colectivo de trabalho, CCT) 109 126
Company-level agreements (acordo de empresa, AE) 55 63
Multi-employer agreements (Acordo colectivo de trabalho, ACT) 9 12
Total 173 201

Source: DGCT.

Table 2 below breaks down the agreements registered in the first halves of 2000 and 2001 by sector.

Table 2. Collective agreements registered in the first half of 2000 and of 2001, by sector

Sector First half 2000 First half 2001
Agriculture, animal production, hunting, forestry and fishing 9 7
Extractive industries 1 1
Manufacturing industries 90 97
Construction 1 1
Wholesale and retail commerce 25 33
Accommodation and restaurants 4 7
Transport, warehousing and communications 23 23
Financial sector 1 2
Real estate, letting and business services 5 5
Education, health and social action 6 10
Other areas an collective, social and personal services 8 15
Total 173 201

Source: DGCT.

In the first half of both 2000 and 2001, the largest number of agreements was concluded in manufacturing industries - making up 52% of the total agreement in 2000 and 48.3% in 2001, and covering 29.2% of the workers concerned in 2000 and 34.6% in 2001. The sector with the second-largest number of collective agreements is wholesale and retail commerce, accounting for 14.5% of all agreements in 2000 and 14.6% in 2001.

A continuing trend towards a centralisation of bargaining is apparent, in that a large percentage of agreements are concluded at national or multi-district/district level. For example, in the second quarter of 2001, 37.1% of all agreements were signed at national level.

In the first half of 2001, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses CGTP) alone signed 45.3% of all agreements (45.7% in the first half of 2000). The General Worker's Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores UGT) alone signed 38.8% of all agreements in the first half of 2001 (38.7% in the first half of 2000). The two trade unions signed jointly 12.7% of the agreements in the first half of 2001 (12.4% in the first half of 2000).

Bargaining contents

Table 3 below sets out the areas in which collective agreements concluded in the first half of 2001 (compared with the first half of 2000) amended provisions relating to remuneration. Collective bargaining in the first half of 2001 dealt with pay scales and meal allowances to a greater extent than in the previous year. In the first quarter of 2001, an average pay increase of 3.6% was negotiated for 340,554 workers. In the second quarter of 2001, an average increase of 4.2% was agreed for 557,712 workers. In July 2001, inflation stood at 4.2%

Remuneration issues dealt with Company and multi-employer agreements Sectoral agreements Total
. 2000 2001 2000 2001 2000 2001
Meal allowances 51 53 87 99 138 152
Long service payments 33 34 35 34 68 68
Cash-handling allowances 33 31 64 65 97 96
Cover for personal injury during travel 3 6 9 5 12 11
Travel allowances 24 29 47 54 71 83
Shift supplements 25 27 12 8 37 35
Allowances for workers attending study courses 12 8 2 2 14 10
Pay scales 63 72 108 126 171 198

Source: DGCT.

On non-remuneration issues, table 4 below indicates that in the first half of 2001 collective bargaining dealt to a considerable extent with maternity and paternity cover (14.2% of all agreements) and job descriptions (13.4%), although to a lesser degree than in the first half of 2000. Some issues, such as flexibility of working time, are more commonly dealt with in company-level agreements than in sectoral-level agreements.

Table 4. Non-remuneration issues dealt with in agreements registered in the first half of 2000 and 2001

Non-remuneration issues dealt with Company and multi-employer agreements Sectoral agreements Total
. 2000 2001 2000 2001 2000 2001
Initial employment conditions 1 1 2 3 2 4
Occupations and job descriptions 11 8 17 10 28 18
Professional careers 5 9 8 7 13 16
Training and restructuring 1 1 2 6 3 7
Adaptability/flexibility of working time 12 0 1 4 13 4
Length of working week 6 10 7 2 13 12
Rest breaks 2 2 3 4 5 6
Weekly rest 0 0 1 1 1 1
Holidays 15 13 4 4 19 17
Absences 2 2 7 6 9 8
Workers attending study courses 3 0 2 1 5 1
Maternity and paternity cover 9 10 18 9 27 19
Safety, health and hygiene in the workplace 2 0 3 2 5 2
Supplementary social security cover - 2 - 0 - 2
Equality of opportunities principles 1 2 1 1 1 4
Trade union rights 2 0 2 2 4 2
Part-time work 1 0 1 1 2 1
Overtime - 0 - 1 - 1
Others 6 4 10 2 18 4
Total 79 65 92 69 171 134

Source: DGCT.

The vast majority of the changes to non-remuneration provisions in collective agreement are merely the reflection of alterations made to labour law. This is the case, for example, for the provisions on length of working time and maternity/paternity. However, changes that may be construed in some way as groundbreaking are those related to the introduction of apprenticeship schemes and careers for technical trainees. Some innovations have been introduced with regard to job descriptions in some of the smaller sectors.

Positions of the government and social partners

For some time now, proposals for changing the Portuguese system of collective bargaining have been on the table for discussion (PT0011122F). The recently appointed Secretary of State for Labour and Vocational Training, António Dornelas, stated in May 2001 that, although the number of workers covered by collective bargaining has not fallen, the system has not adapted to the changes that have taken place within the labour market. According to the Secretary of State, not only pay should be negotiated, but also other issues such as equal opportunities, supplementary social security, variation of the working week and access to training, in order to find a balance between some degree of flexibility in industrial relations and employment security.

The new president of the Portuguese Confederation of Industry (Confederação da Indústria Portuguesa, CIP), Nogueira Simões, has stated that collective bargaining based on sector-level negotiations, as is currently the case, is an outdated model. He adds that no recommendations from international organisations designed to modernise the system and keep pace with technological changes have been implemented in Portugal. The bargaining process involves merely the adjustment of pay, and CIP is not prepared to continue exclusively to negotiate on this issue. CIP believes that it is necessary to examine other issues such as productivity, since companies are at the limit of their competitiveness. It wants to see a reorganisation of the present role of employers' and trade union organisations and a change to the duration of collective agreements.

CGTP's current action programme states that the right to collective bargaining is being subjected to strong employer pressure and that this is impeding bargaining. It points to employers' strategies that it believes promote inequalities in pay levels, create forms of employment such as part-time contracts, or attempt to bring about changes in the collective bargaining law. With regard to the current apparatus for the resolution of industrial conflicts (PT0002183F), CGTP considers that the government has not taken measures to penalise alleged obstruction tactics by employers and believes that the use of compulsory arbitration should be tightly restricted. It also considers that the idea that collective bargaining currently merely sets pay is not founded in reality and that the process has enabled progress to be made in terms of workers' rights.

In a recent interview, the general secretary of UGT, João Proença stated that the industrial relations system in Portugal is very much centred around collective bargaining, and does not really involve social dialogue, nor employee participation at company level. The reasons that bargaining tends only to deal with pay issues (and not matters such as social security, vocational training, and health and safety) are that: the employers do not accept collective bargaining as a regulatory tool; and the same group of workers may be covered simultaneously by two or three agreements, which in practice means that bargaining is often futile

At a recent seminar on 'Bargaining for the future - better protection, more efficiency', UGT negotiators raised a number of areas related to the bargaining apparatus and the resolution of conflicts, which they felt should be improved. On this basis, UGT has highlighted the following issues:

  • the effective connection of the various bargaining levels and recognition that certain issues may be dealt with in an effective fashion through company-level agreements;
  • special attention should be given to developing new bargaining structures for groups of companies and company networks (the specific situation of such new business structures should also be covered adequately by collective bargaining legislation).
  • matching the scope and functioning of joint collective-agreement committee s (the employer-union bodies which oversee collective agreements) to the particular circumstances of the sector or company;
  • refining and implementing the full set of mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts laid down in law (mediation, conciliation and arbitration). In Portugal, apart from conciliation, the other means have proven ineffective;
  • developing mechanisms that prevent social partners from abandoning the bargaining process, with those refusing to negotiate being penalised; and
  • recognising the retroactive effect of agreements.

In terms of the role of trade unions, UGT states that:

In terms of the public administration of labour and employment issues, UGT urges:

  • a more balanced and focused system of state intervention;
  • the adoption by the General Labour Inspectorate (Inspecção Geral do Trabalho, IGT) of more effective working practices, particularly in certain regions;
  • a renewal of the services of the Institute for the Improvement and Inspection of Working Conditions (Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Inspecção das Condições de Trabalho, IDICT) and an improvement of its operations; and
  • the creation of a centre for labour relations to bring about an improvement in the information available. The absence of such information makes the prevention of conflicts difficult.


An analysis of the development of the Portuguese collective bargaining system and the content of its outcomes shows that the system has remained inflexible during a period when there have been profound changes in the economy and in society as a whole. This is a central theme in any system of labour relations and has been the subject of discussion for some years in Portugal. The deliberations of the social partners in this regard have now ceased to be merely critical and they have presented some solutions for the problems. (Ana Almeida and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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