Trade unions divided over public sector reform
In June 2007, the government reached a final agreement with the Trade Union Front of Public Administration on a new system of employment relations, careers and wages for the public sector. The final draft bill was approved by the Council of Ministers and was due to be presented to the parliament. However, the other main trade unions in the public sector did not subscribe to the agreement and remain concerned about the new system.
Government reaches agreement with FESAP
During recent months, negotiations in the public sector were focused on the draft bill proposed by the government on 19 April 2007 (PT0705019I) on a new system of employment relations, careers and wages for the public sector (PT0702059I).
On 14 June 2007, the government reached a final agreement with the Trade Union Front of Public Administration (Frente Sindical da Administração Pública, FESAP) affiliated to the General Workers’ Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). That same day, the government approved the final draft bill, which was to be presented to the parliament.
However, the Common Front of Public Administration Unions (Frente Comum dos Sindicatos da Administração Pública, FC), affiliated to the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), and the Technical Civil Servants’ Union (Sindicato dos Quadros Técnicos do Estado, STE), affiliated to UGT, did not subscribe to the agreement. Previously, on 30 May 2007, they held a strike against the reforms in the public sector (PT0704069I).
Key issues addressed
The Minister of Finance, Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, considers the reform ‘a great step for the reform of public administration, as it defines a major reduction of the number of careers and rewards merit, putting an end to the automatic system of promotion’.
According to Minister Teixeira dos Santos, one of the key issues arising in the discussions with FESAP was that better performance could not be rewarded for budgetary reasons. To remove this obstacle, the government proposed a system of credits related to performance evaluation, which granted promotions independently of budgetary restrictions. Another issue at stake was the decision to limit the status of civil servants – and the corresponding employment conditions – to workers in those areas representing the core functions of the state (PT0702049I, PT0702059I). According to FESAP, this problem was also resolved, insofar as the government guaranteed that workers who had previously held the status of civil servants – but no longer performed core functions – would nevertheless keep the same employment regime regarding dismissal, special mobility, social security, working time and holidays.
The Secretary General of FESAP, Jorge Nobre dos Santos, believed that they had reached a good agreement in terms of employment stability and career expectations. Furthermore, Mr Nobre dos Santos stated that ‘it is important that the deputies take into consideration that this draft bill has the large consensus of those trade unions who are looking forward to its future approval by parliament’.
Other trade unions reject agreement
Despite the positive view taken by FESAP, the other trade unions in the public sector reacted negatively to the agreement. The leader of FC, Ana Avoila, declared that ‘the government acted unfairly in relation to the Common Front, as the matters that have been presented to us up until the end of the negotiations are different from those which were presented to FESAP’. Furthermore, Ms Avoila emphasised that ‘it is deplorable that anyone is prepared to make an agreement that questions all the rights won by public administration workers following the 25 April  revolution’.
The President of STE, Bettencourt Picanço, considered ‘strange and illegal’ that the government did not present STE with the same proposal that was presented to FESAP, adding that ‘for the first time there are subject matters that were negotiated with only one trade union structure’. Mr Picanço underlined that the most grievous points of the draft bill had not changed and that STE would try to approach the parliamentary groups in order to introduce certain amendments.
Prime ministerial approval before parliamentary stage
Meanwhile, Prime Minister José Sócrates announced that the agreement ‘represents the spirit of modernity of trade unionism in Portugal’ because it ‘shows that part of Portuguese trade unionism acknowledges that career promotions must be based on the evaluation of merit’. Prime Minister Sócrates highlighted that ‘the reform of public administration is progressing and we had a very innovative situation by having the support of a trade union structure’.
The final draft bill, approved by the Council of Ministers on 14 June 2007, was due to be presented to the parliament shortly thereafter, and to be voted on by the end of the legislative session in July 2007.
Maria da Paz Campos Lima and Reinhard Naumann, Dinâmia