Agreement on work-life balance in the public sector

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The recently signed Concilia Plan establishes a series of measures for civil servants in the general state administration with regard to flexible working time, work-life balance, care of dependants, and sexual harassment. The plan is intended to be applicable to the whole of Spain, and has received considerable trade union support. However, the agreement on the plan was not signed by the Trade Union Confederation of Workers' Commissions (CCOO) - the trade union with the greatest representation among civil servants of the general state administration - because it was accompanied by a pay increase for 2006 that CCOO considers insufficient.

On 7 December 2005, the Ministry of Public Administration (Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas) signed an agreement with the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), the Independent Trade Union Confederation of Public Servants (Central Sindical Independiente y de Funcionarios, CSI-CSIF) and the Public Administration Trade Union (Sindicato de la Administración Pública, SAP) regarding a series of measures for improving the work-life balance of employees of the general state administration (Administración General del Estado, AGE), and regarding the pay increase for 2006. The Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CCOO), which has a majority representation among these employees, supported the work-life balance measures but refused to sign the agreement because it considers the pay increase to be insufficient.

The work-life balance measures are laid down in an integral plan called the Concilia Plan (Plan Concilia) which affects the 500,000 AGE workers. The ministry and the trade unions that signed the agreement feel that it should serve as an example for other public administrations and private companies. The measures involve working time, paternity and maternity leave, care of dependent persons, and situations arising from sexual harassment.

Main provisions

Working time

With regard to working time, the Concilia Plan maintains the number of working hours but reduces the period of the fixed working day to 09.00 to 15.00, with a minimum lunch break for workers on split shifts. Single parents and workers with disabled children may extend the flexibility to a further two hours of their working day. Workers with dependent elderly or disabled relatives, or with children under the age of 12 years, are entitled to extend the flexibility by one hour. In all cases, the working day must end no later than 18.00.

Parental leave

The plan establishes several measures relating to paternity and maternity leave. Workers are entitled to 10 days’ paternity leave for the birth, fostering or adoption of a child. They are also entitled to add their holidays to the maternity, breastfeeding and paternity leave, which may extend beyond the calendar year. Breastfeeding leave for children up to the age of 12 months may now be added to maternity leave as an additional four weeks. The possibility of working shorter hours has been extended from parents with children up to six years of age to those with children up to 12 years of age.

In the cases of premature birth and newborn children who have to stay in hospital, the workers are entitled to two hours’ paid leave per day. In these cases, the maternity leave may be counted from the date of leaving hospital. Workers are also entitled to be absent from work to undergo fertility treatments.

In cases of international adoption, when the parents must travel to the child’s country of origin, they are entitled to two months on basic pay. Public employees are entitled to receive continuing training during maternity and paternity leave, and when they are on leave of absence for family reasons.

Care of dependants

A further package of measures established by the Concilia Plan concerns the care of dependants. The maximum period of leave of absence for public employees to take care of a dependent person who is a close relative has been extended to three years. During the first two years, their job is reserved, and thereafter they are guaranteed a job at the same level and pay in the same town.

Sexual harassment

Finally, the Concilia Plan also deals with protection against sexual harassment or violence. Public employees who are victims of such an attack, and forced to change their job, may apply for transfer to another administrative unit or another town. They are also entitled to take a leave of absence with no time limit in order to ensure their protection or full social care, even if they do not have the seniority normally required for this entitlement. During the first two months of this leave, they receive full pay.

Pay increase for 2006

The CCOO felt that the Concilia Plan falls short in some areas, such as paternity leave (10 days), for which the trade union had asked for 30 days. However, the reason why the union did not sign the plan is that it was packaged together with the 2006 pay increase established for employees of the AGE. According to CCOO, the government’s intention was to conceal an insufficient pay increase behind the Concilia Plan.

The pay increase for civil servants of the AGE agreed for 2006 by the Ministry of Public Administration and the trade unions UGT, CSI-CSIF and SAP is 4%. However, CCOO states that this figure will not be reached in all cases, because part of it (0.3%) will be distributed according to productivity, and only 20,000 civil servants received productivity bonuses in 2005. Furthermore, another 0.5% of the pay increase will be paid into the pension fund as deferred pay, so it is not a direct pay increase for civil servants. Therefore, according to CCOO, the agreed pay increase is in fact 3.1%, a figure that the trade union considers disappointing, bearing in mind that many of the employees with low qualifications earn only €800 to €1,000 per month, little more than the minimum wage of €750. CCOO also claims that between the AGE and other public administrations, there are differences of as much as €240 per month in the pay of civil servants of the same category.

CCOO criticises the rigid position adopted by the Ministry of Public Administration during the process of bargaining on the pay increase. Combining the Concilia Plan and pay in the same bargaining agenda may have been a strategy by the Ministry to obtain an alliance with the UGT, CSI-CSIF and SAP for future collective bargaining processes, bearing in mind that CCOO is the majority trade union in the AGE, with 45% of members, and that trade union elections are to be held shortly.

Applicability of the Plan

Although CCOO did not sign the agreement, it does not reject the measures of the Concilia Plan, which are intended to be a reference for certain social questions that have received increasing attention from the public authorities in recent years, including the Law on reconciliation of work and family life (Ley de Conciliación de la Vida Laboral y Familiar) of 1999, the Integral Law against sexual harassment (Ley Integral Contra la Violencia de Género) of 2004, and the recently approved Draft Bill on promotion of personal autonomy and care of dependants (Anteproyecto de Ley de Promoción de la Autonomía Personal y Atención de las Personas Dependientes).

The plan affects more than 500,000 workers, of whom 50.3% are women. The percentage of women has increased by 14 percentage points since 1990, when 64% of the civil servants of the AGE were men. Despite this increase in the number of women employed in public administration, the majority are in lower-skilled jobs and less than 10% of women in the civil service belong to the higher categories. In relation to the measures introduced by the Concilia Plan, it should be pointed out that half of all public employees look after a child under the age of 16 years or a person over the age of 65 years. Every year, around 1% of the women working in public service have a child. The ratio of maternity to paternity leave is 98 to 2, and leave of absence to take care of children is taken by women in 96% of cases. As many as 2,500 men each year could benefit from the new paternity leave. At present, around 13,000 public employees request leave for personal or family circumstances.

Commentary

The Concilia Plan encompasses a series of measures promoting work-life balance and countering sexual harassment or violence. It can also be viewed as a mechanism for increasing the birth rate in Spain, which is among the lowest in the world. As it is intended to serve as a reference, it must now be seen whether it can be extended to other administrations and to the private sector.

However, the measures that favour greater flexibility of working time with other forms of leave need not be limited to childcare or care of dependent persons. Measures could also be introduced to reduce working hours in general. Spanish working hours are among the longest in Europe, which could partly explain the country’s low level of productivity. (Pablo Meseguer Gancedo, CIREM Foundation, Spain)

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