Unions strike over public service restructuring

On 6 July 2006, the three major trade union organisations representing public administration workers organised a 24-hour strike in protest against the terms of the government’s comprehensive reform of public services. On the day after the strike, the Minister for Finance reaffirmed in parliament the government’s commitment to the reform and to the aim of reducing staffing costs in public administration by almost one billion euro in 2006 and 2007. The reduction of staff costs is at the centre of the conflict, in particular the introduction of a transferability scheme for civil servants whose position becomes superfluous in the course of restructuring. The conflict between unions and government puts the question of internal and external flexibility in the public sector at the top of the industrial relations agenda.

On 31 March 2006, the Portuguese government presented the Programme for restructuring central public administration (Programa de Reestruturação da Administração Central do Estado, PRACE). This programme aims at a radical restructuring of central public administration (PT0605019I) and implies a major challenge in terms of flexibility and mobility for a large part of the 580,000 public servants concerned.

New mobility scheme

In June, the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration (Ministério das Finanças e da Administração Pública) presented the terms of the mobility or transferability scheme of public servants (Regime de Mobilidade dos Funcionários da Administração Pública), which is considered a central tool for implementing the government’s ambitious restructuring plan. A special mobility scheme is being designed for public servants who are affected by the curtailing, merging or restructuring of services, or by measures to rationalise human resources.

If they are not transferred to a new workplace, the workers are given a special mobility status (situação de mobilidade especial). In the first 60-day period of transition, they keep their basic income. During the following 10 months, during which further training is provided, their income is reduced by one sixth. After re-qualification, these public servants then enter a period of ‘compensation’: their basic income is reduced by one third and they are allowed to take on work in the private sector. The special mobility status ends if the respective workers reinitiate their activity in central public administration, if they take unpaid leave, if they retire or if they are expelled by disciplinary means from central administration.

Views of trade unions

The mobility scheme was unanimously rejected by the most representative trade unions in public services and by both national organisations, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers’ Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). The National Federation of Public Sector Unions (Federação Nacional de Sindicatos da Função Pública, FNSFP), affiliated to CGTP, the Trade Union Front of Public Administration (Frente Sindical da Administração Pública, FESAP) and the Technical Civil Servants Union (Sindicato dos Quadros Técnicos do Estado, STE), both of which are affiliated to UGT, joined together in criticising the mobility scheme as a euphemism for destabilising labour relations and reducing the number of personnel in public administration.

Strike action

On 6 July, FNSFP, FESAP, STE and other unions called a 24-hour strike in central and local public administration against the mobility scheme, demanding the cancellation of the project. The fact that the strike was organised by a broad coalition of union organisations from different political and professional areas ensured considerable success in mobilising workers.

On the day after the strike, the Finance Minister, Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, reaffirmed in parliament the government’s commitment to the reform and to the aim of cutting personnel costs in 2006 and 2007 by almost one billion euro. On 20 July, the parliament passed the law on the mobility scheme and the legislative process was due to continue after the summer holidays. The trade unions were preparing further strikes for this period.

Commentary

Public civil servants in the central state administration account for about 15% of the salaried workforce in Portugal. When local authorities are taken into account, the total proportion rises to 20%. Furthermore, during recent years, public administration has set the pace in collective bargaining. Given the quantitative and qualitative importance of public administration in Portuguese society, therefore, the conflict over the mobility scheme puts the question of internal and external flexibility at the top of the agenda in the debate on the state of industrial relations in Portugal.

Maria da Paz Campos Lima and Reinhard Naumann, Dinâmia

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