Portugal: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

Measures to combat employment insecurity, improvements to collective bargaining dynamics, and the Ryanair cabin crew strike are the main topics of this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Portugal in the first quarter of 2018.

Combating job insecurity

On 23 March 2018, the government published proposals to alleviate widespread job insecurity (PDF). The proposed reforms would introduce several legal curbs on precarious employment practices. Headline measures include a cut to the maximum duration of fixed-term contracts (from three to two years) and a new social security contribution for employers who over-rely on such contracts. There are also plans to reduce the number of times temporary contracts can be renewed, and changes designed to simplify employment contracting procedures.

The proposals follow recent steps by the government to address precarious employment practices affecting independent workers (PDF) and public administration personnel.

Job insecurity remains a structural challenge in Portugal. A slight increase in the use of permanent contracts in 2017 was not enough to reverse the pattern of labour market segmentation. At present, 22% of all employees, and 65% of young employees, are on fixed-term contracts, while 81% of new private sector employment contracts are fixed-term or temporary. Moreover, a report published in January concluded that the economic recovery has not led to better job security (PDF).

New proposals to boost collective bargaining

On 23 March 2018, the Government proposed new measures to revitalise collective bargaining (PDF). In 2017, only 820,000 workers were protected by collective labour agreements (CLAs), compared with 1.9 million in 2008. Plans to help restore coverage to pre-crisis levels include a new law to ensure that ‘working time accounts’ (banco de horas) can only be regulated through collective agreements, and new measures to prevent collective agreements from expiring unnecessarily.

Furthermore, to dissuade ‘free-riders’ (workers who benefit from union representation without contributing) and to boost joint representation, the proposals outline new deadline and time-frames for workers who stand to benefit from collective agreements.

The latest plans follow recent reforms to tackle the crisis of collective bargaining, including a temporary measure preventing the expiry of collective agreements and a new law on the extension of agreements designed to boost coverage.

Cabin crew strike to defend labour rights

The trade union representing Ryanair cabin crew, National Union of Civil Aviation Personnel (SNPVAC) called a national three-day strike at the end of March 2018, over alleged employment law violations by the airline. SNPVAC representatives say Ryanair has failed to comply with parental rights and minimum wage rules and claim that workers have been threatened for missing on-board sales targets and for taking sick leave. In addition, the union is preparing a criminal complaint against the firm for recruiting on-board staff by alleged illegal means during strike action. 

Cabin crew have received support for the strikes, held on 29 March, 1 April and 4 April, from the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) and the European Cabin Crew Association (EurECCA). Furthermore, leaders of cabin crew trade unions from Spain, Germany and UK decided to be present during the Portuguese strike on 4 April. According to SNPVAC this could be the first step towards organising a Europe-wide Ryanair cabin crew strike over workers’ rights and collective bargaining rights.

The Labour Conditions Authority (ACT) is investigating irregularities related to the Ryanair crew members’ right to strike. During a parliamentary hearing on 4 April, Labour Minister Vieira da Silva, said ACT inspectors were ‘on the ground to prevent the use of illegitimate instruments to prevent the right to strike’. The Minister acknowledged that Ryanair employment contracts are governed by the Rome Regulation, which allows airlines to adopt a legal framework outside of Portugal’s jurisdiction. However, he added that the regulation upholds the rules most favourable to the worker, in cases where there is a conflict with national legislation.

Commentary

Trade union confederations generally welcomed proposals to limit the use of short-term contracts and temporary agency work, but the CGTP expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the government’s proposals. Unions would also like to see further changes to regulations concerning the expiry and survival of collective agreements and to extend the principle of favor laboratoris (seeking to protect the worker). CGTP representatives say the government’s proposals ignore these aims. In contrast, employer confederations have opposed changes to labour law. They reject measures limiting the use of short-term contracts and agency workers, and are concerned about enforced regulation of working time accounts through collective agreements. These initial, mixed reactions to the government’s proposals suggest it will not be easy to find consensus on the issues of job insecurity, labour market segmentation or collective bargaining, although the degree of common ground will become clearer in the coming weeks.

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