Progress and problems in collective bargaining

While there has been progress in Spain’s collective bargaining process, the social changes underway have led to problems of articulation and overlaps in bargaining activities. The concept of nationalism has also had an impact on the country’s bargaining process. Employer organisations and trade unions agree about the need to rationalise collective bargaining, but do not agree on how this should be done.

Expectations of collective bargaining

Collective bargaining is affected by different factors, such as political decentralisation, as well as innovation in products and processes; however, these factors have led to some confusion among the social partners. One of the main issues in collective bargaining is the choice between centralised and decentralised bargaining. In general, trade unions are more likely to favour centralisation as it tends to strengthen the position of workers. At the same time, the amplitude of the scale of bargaining promotes greater labour market coverage, employment and also equality in wages and working conditions. On the other hand, employer organisations tend to prefer company-level agreements, although the situation in Spain is more complicated as a whole.

Effects of nationalism on bargaining

The concept of nationalism has an impact on some trade unions in Spain – such as the Basque Workers’ Solidarity (Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos-Euskal Sindikatua, ELA-STV) and the Galician Trade Union Confederation (Confederación Intersindical Gallega, CIG), as well as some smaller unions in autonomous communities affiliated to national trade unions. Moreover, one of the main trade unions in Spain – namely, the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CCOO) – was formed largely through the consolidation of various groups in the national territory, which has left a significant territorial stamp on the confederation.

Nationalism also affects some employer organisations, but to a lesser degree than the trade unions.

Support for decentralised bargaining

Similar views about decentralised bargaining have also emerged. For example, liberals have supported the idea of giving freedom to companies to break away from the commitments concerning salary included in sectoral agreements. Others are advocating a growth of company-level bargaining, not to undermine the negotiations at other levels, but rather to complement and improve the substance of the negotiations.

Problems and objectives of bargaining

Moreover, problems and goals of the bargaining process, such as those listed below, are widely shared by social actors.

  • Negotiations appear to be highly fragmented, with a multiplicity of bargaining units. This makes it difficult to conclude agreements at different levels. The main problem in this case is usually the absence of bargaining at sectoral and state level.
  • Innovation in goods and services often leads to changes in productive activities, and to the emergence of new activities that replace the previous ones in a partial and misleading way. This sometimes gives rise to a diversification in collective bargaining, including overlaps and confusion.
  • The new productive context includes the emergence of new forms of business organisation and new relationships between companies – for example, in terms of networking and outsourcing. Work is often affected by different companies jointly or interdependently.
  • Sometimes, negotiations can be extended for an excessive period of time.


In Spain, social dialogue has led to significant improvements in collective bargaining and in fields closely related to it. One of the main channels for consultation has been the Agreement on Collective Bargaining (Acuerdo Interconfederal para la Negociación Colectiva, ANC) (ES0712029I), from 2002 to 2008.

The ANC established the guidelines that must be followed with regard to the bargaining of collective agreements, and over the years it has become consolidated as a guarantee of wage moderation and industrial peace. However, on 6 March 2009, the most representative social partners at national level failed to renew the agreement (see press release (in Spanish)).

However, social dialogue has been very successful in Spain and continues at different levels. Moreover, it receives the ongoing support of the social partners.

Esteban Villarejo, CIREM Foundation

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