Employers plan to extend opening hours at large supermarkets

In December 2009, the Commerce and Services Union (CESP) called for a strike against employers’ plans to increase working time flexibility at large supermarkets, extending weekly working time up to 60 hours. The conflict threatened trade over the Christmas period. As the Portuguese Association of Distribution Companies cancelled further negotiations, CESP interpreted this as a retreat and called off the strike. However, employers insist that they intend to implement the flexibility scheme.

Trade union calls strike against employers’ plan

In December 2009, the Commerce and Services Union (Sindicato dos trabalhadores do Comércio, Escritórios e Serviços de Portugal, CESP), affiliated to the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), called for a strike against the plans of the Portuguese Association of Distribution Companies (Associação Portuguesa de Empresas de Distribuição, APED) to introduce more working time flexibility at large supermarkets. The employers’ proposal includes extending working time up to 12 hours a day and 60 hours a week, as well as the possibility of informing workers of their working schedule only one day in advance.

Strike averted despite conflicting social partner views

The conflict threatened the Christmas business period as the strike was scheduled for 24 December 2009, a day when the majority of supermarkets in Portugal are open for trade. In this context, APED cancelled the ongoing negotiations with the trade unions. CESP subsequently interpreted this as a retreat on the employer side and called off the planned strike. However, the employers have presented a different explanation. APED declared to the press that its proposal on working time flexibility remains unchanged. APED’s President, Vicente Dias, explained that the association had to cancel the meeting with the trade unions scheduled for 21 December because conditions were not favourable at the time – due to the strike notice – to negotiate a revised collective agreement, which proposed the possibility of extending weekly working hours.

CESP’s President, Manuel Guerreiro, told the press that, despite the fact that APED cancelled the meeting scheduled for 21 December, an informal meeting took place on the same day between APED and the trade unions. At the meeting, according to CESP, APED promised to withdraw the proposal to extend working time flexibility up to 60 hours a week. According to Mr Guerreiro, that was ‘why the union decided to withdraw the strike notice for 24 December’.

Employers uphold proposal

In response to these statements, the President of APED, Mr Dias, confirmed that the employers had met some trade union officials, but explained that no informal meeting took place, nor did the employers make any such promise to withdraw their proposal on working time flexibility. Mr Dias declared that the meeting scheduled for 21 December was cancelled only because conditions for further negotiations were not optimal, because of the strike notice. Furthermore, he commented that ‘when the next meeting takes place, APED will present exactly the same proposal as before’.

Impact on collective bargaining

The conflict puts the negotiation of the collective agreement for 2010 in jeopardy, particularly negotiations regarding the extension of the hourly rate for up to 60 hours a week, proposed by APED. CESP, representing 80% of workers in the wholesale and retail trade sector, is demanding that the current regime of 40 working hours a week be maintained, with the possibility of extending working time by 10 additional hours a week, which would require employees to be informed a month in advance of any change of schedule.

Maria da Paz Campos Lima, Dinâmia

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