New law on subcontracting aims to reduce industrial accident rate

The Spanish government has approved a new law to control subcontracting, as trade unions have identified this practice as one of the main causes of the high industrial accident rate. On 29 September 2006, a strike was held by workers in the construction sector in the Catalonia region in protest against industrial accidents.

The high industrial accident rate is identified as one of the main problems of the Spanish labour market (ES9904215F, ES0209201N, ES0210202F, ES0606049I), and the majority trade unions have repeatedly stated that subcontracting is one of the main causes (ES0212205F). However, the unions believe that the recently approved law on subcontracting in the construction and wood sector will help in combating this problem. The new law, based on an agreement between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE) and the People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP), will come into force in 2007.

Provisions of new law

  • In the first 18 months after the law comes into force, at least 10% of a company’s workforce must have permanent employment contracts. The minimum proportion will rise to 20% of workers in the following 18 months and thereafter to 30%.
  • The new law establishes a limit of three levels of successive subcontracting for specialised activities and only one level of subcontracting for labour-intensive jobs. A fourth level will be accepted for specialised activities in cases of ‘force majeure’, such as reconstruction following natural disasters.
  • Companies that wish to subcontract or be subcontracted must register with their business address. They have to provide guarantees of quality and solvency stipulated by the law, and show that their workers have received suitable training. On each worksite, a register must be maintained for the Labour Inspectorate, stating the relation of the main company with the subcontractors. Subsidiary responsibility will be applicable in cases of failure to comply with the above conditions.
  • Self-employed workers may not subcontract other workers but they may be subcontracted themselves.

Reaction of social partners

One of the majority trade unions, the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO), states that the new law stems from a ‘popular legislative initiative’ (iniciativa legislativa popular) that obtained 600,000 signatures (ES0106147F). CC.OO believes that compliance – often lacking in the world of contracts and subcontracts – will be an essential factor if the law is to achieve its aims. The other majority trade union, the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), also approves of the new law, which it considers to be the result of trade union pressure. However, it regrets that proposals introduced by the PP, such as allowing the subcontracting of self-employed workers, may make the law less effective.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE) considers that the new law is far removed from the economic reality of companies, and that it will curtail flexibility in the labour market. This same argument has been put forward by the Basque and Catalan right-wing nationalist parties, Convergència i Unió (CiU) and the Basque Nationalist Party (Eusko Alderdi Jeltzalea–Partido Nacionalista Vasco, EAJ–PNV), to justify voting against it.

Strike in construction sector

In this context, on 29 September 2006, a strike was held amongst construction workers in the province of Barcelona. According to the organisers, 80% to 90% of workers in the sector participated. The main objectives of the strike were to:

  • limit the practice of subcontracting;
  • reduce the number of industrial accidents;
  • strengthen the role of the Labour Inspectorate, particularly when the new law on subcontracting comes into force;
  • increase training opportunities;
  • encourage early retirement at the age of 60 years.

Martí López, QUIT, University Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB)

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