Government proposes reform of continuing training system
In early 2003, in the light of recent court rulings on the rights of regional authorities in this area, the Spanish government has launched a debate on reform of the continuing training system, in which the social partners are heavily involved. The government is proposing changes which include some decentralisation of the system to the regions.
As a result of rulings by the Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional) recognising the competences of the regions (autonomous communities) of Galicia and Catalonia with regard to continuing training, and court action on possible irregularities in the management of subsidies, in early 2003 the Spanish government is considering the need to reorganise the national continuing training system. The system is based on the extensive involvement of the social partners and collective bargaining in managing all levels of continuing training, enshrined in the partners' third National Agreement on Continuing Training (Acuerdo Nacional de Formación Continua, ANFC), signed in December 2000 (ES0101130F). Since the 2000 agreement, the system has been administered by the Tripartite Foundation for Training in Employment (Fundación Tripartita para la Formación en el Empleo) (ES0109202F).
A debate has now started around a draft document in which the government proposes a thorough reform of the system, maintaining the current tripartite management and funding the system with 0.35% of workers' social security contributions. However, a new type of subsidy for companies would be introduced to stimulate continuing training, in the form of reductions in social security contributions, and furthermore the management of part of the system would be decentralised to the regional level, in accordance with the court rulings.
The proposals are opposed by the main trade union confederations - the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT) and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) - because they are seen as involving a separation of continuing training from collective bargaining and as reducing the competences of the Tripartite Foundation, thus breaking with the principles of the third ANFC agreement. The Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE), on the other hand, has a more open attitude, because the draft recognises the employers' demand for the direct deductions for companies of the training expenses they incur.
Aspects of the proposed new system that have not yet been specified include: the role of the Tripartite Foundation; the relationship of the system to the industrial relations regulatory framework; how to stimulate training in small companies; and the role of the social partners at the different levels and processes of the system.
The proposals are also being negotiated with the regions to obtain their support. The draft leaves open many specific questions on how competences will be transferred to the regions, how decisions will be taken at this level and how exactly the system will be managed. Once the decentralisation process has started, the mechanisms of development may vary greatly from region to region. Thus, the social partners and the government are currently discussing the basic definitions and no consensus is yet apparent. Also, once the general lines of the reform have been defined, the formulation and final application in each region will depend on matters that must be decided by the regional authorities.
The government's proposals have had the virtue of placing on the agenda of the social partners the general reform of the continuing training system and dealing with the question of decentralisation, but a great effort will be required in order to reach a consensus between the government, the social partners and the regions.