Agreement on employment and working conditions in Catalan Regional Government

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An agreement, signed in July 1997 and covering the period 1997/9, is the first to be concluded by the Catalan Government and the trade unions since 1992, and covers the issue of employment security in the Catalan Regional Government (Generalitat). It introduces changes in working hours, encourages continuous training and aims to reduce the legal complexity of disputes by creating a body for mediation and conciliation.

The public sector employs 256,300 people in Catalonia (according to the EPA labour force survey, second quarter 1996), of whom 110,000 work in its regional government (Generalitat) including 100,000 as civil servants and 10,000 as non-civil service administrative staff.

In general terms, the working conditions in the public administration are better than in the private sector. One of the main advantages of a public career is stability: not only is the rate of temporary employment in the public sector lower than that in the private sector, but job security is far greater. Moreover, in the public sector working hours are on average shorter than in the private sector. For example, 81% of employees in the private sector work 40 to 49 hours a week, whilst only 39% of those in the public sector do so, as the table below indicates.

Working conditions in the public and private sector, 1996
. Public sector Private sector
Temporary employment rate 18% 37%
Over five years' length of service 68% 48%
Normal weekly working hours . .
30-39 53% 4.3%
40-49 39% 81%

Source: EPA. Second quarter, 1996.

However, over the last few years there has been a deterioration in the working conditions of public sector employees, mainly due to the pay freeze in the public administration. An increasing precariousness is also observed in the working conditions of non-civil service staff in the public administration. All of this led in the autumn of 1996 to a rally of public sector staff to demand a wage increase, greater job stability and improvements in working conditions (ES9702201N). The July 1997 agreement on employment and the working conditions of public employees of the Generalitat of Catalonia is the first that has been signed in Spain since then, and it includes some of the demands made by the civil servants.

The content of the new agreement is analysed below. It runs from 1997 to 1999 and was signed by the Catalan administration and the following trade unions: CC.OO; UGT; the Independent Trade Union Confederation of Civil Servants (Confederación Sindical Independiente de Funcionarios, CSIF); and the State Confederation of Doctors and Health Workers' Unions (Confederación Estatal de Médicos y Sindicatos de Ayudantes Técnicos Sanitarios, CEMSATSE)

Greater job security

Though job security is far greater in the public administration than in the private sector, the rate of temporary employment in the public sector has increased considerably over recent years: between 1987 and 1996, it rose from 8% to 18%.

The agreement intends to put a stop to this situation by encouraging permanent contracting. To this end, the signatories agreed expressly to increase the percentage of permanent staff, and propose to reduce temporary employment to 10% amongst administrative, technical and health workers and 5% among non-university educational staff by 1999.

It was agreed to create a "job shop" for temporary staff which will channel all the offers of temporary posts that are generated in the public administration. This job shop will be centralised and interdepartmental, and it will be managed by the public employment services of Catalonia .

Limited use of temporary employment agencies

It was also agreed to restrict the use of temporary employment agencies. The Administration has therefore agreed to use temporary employment agencies only when it is necessary to carry out support tasks complementary to normal activities which cannot be performed by contracting temporary staff from the job shop. The agreement also refers to the conditions laid down in the Catalan agreement on temporary employment agencies, which improved the conditions established in a national agreement concluded in January 1997 (ES9702103N).

Means of improving working conditions

The agreement also revealed the importance of reaching a consensus on personnel policies and the appropriate "civil service model" between the trade unions and the Administration. The introduction to the agreement stresses the importance of "having motivated and staff trained for their job". This has led to a series of agreements aimed at improving human resource management in the public administration, which include the following:

  • encouraging internal promotion and horizontal and inter-administrative mobility;
  • limiting overtime;
  • reducing part-time working hours;
  • a small reduction in working hours (12.3 hours fewer per year);
  • the introduction of a certain flexibility in the distribution of working hours; and
  • increasing maternity leave to five years

One of the main problems is to establish mechanisms to permit a pay increase for technical and administrative staff. As the Generalitat of Catalonia is still a young administration, there will be no retirements in the short term, which means that for technical and administrative posts the chances of promotion are very low. The signatories agreed to carry out a study of this problem, and to seek formulae that will increase wages within the same post so that economic and professional recognition may be achieved without needing to change jobs.

Promoting continuous training

The agreement establishes the commitment to carry out a training plan in each department or body of the Generalitat. To this end, an appendix to the agreement establishes a series of criteria aimed at improving the planning and management of training.

An important point is the assigning of up to 40 hours of training per year to public workers. It was also established as a general principle that training should be carried out in working hours providing that this does not affect the service, and that when the training is given outside working hours the workers' time will be compensated.

It was also agreed that trade unions will participate in the management of training plans. Up to now, the unions negotiated only the management of the funds paid by civil servants to social security for training, but not the funds that the public administration devoted to training. From now on, negotiations between the unions and the administration will cover both funds.

Sectoral commissions and monitoring commissions

The agreement is based on the heterogeneity of public services. A certain sectoralisation of the content of the agreement is therefore considered necessary in order to adapt it to the reality of the different public services. Several sectoral commissions will therefore be set up to draw up medium-term staffing policies and to monitor the agreements that have been reached. These commissions will be formed by the organisations signing the agreement and by the administration, and they must deal with the following topics:

  • offers of employment and the selection process (posts to be advertised, transfers, internal promotion);
  • monitoring the job shops;
  • control and monitoring of overtime; and
  • monitoring the introduction of part-time employment.

A joint monitoring commission comprising the signatory unions and the administration will also be set up and will meet quarterly to evaluate the fulfilment of the agreement .

Mediation and conciliation

The high level of labour disputes and the growing legal complexity of labour relations is another aspect that the agreement attempts to deal with. A joint body has therefore been set up to solve labour disputes that arise between the Generalitat and its employees (whether civil servants or non-civil service staff). It is intended that this body will avoid the prolongation of disputes and the proliferation of cases presented to the labour courts. Another objective of the mediation and conciliation body will be to overcome pitfalls in the negotiation of agreements and pacts so that disputes that could lead to strikes can be easily settled.

Commentary

The fact that trade unions and the public administration have reached an agreement is very helpful, since it unblocks many pending topics and marks an improvement in labour relations in the public sector. The signing of the agreement is also positive inasmuch as it is a step forward in the improvement of working conditions in the public sector, which is an essential requirement for ensuring a quality public service capable of adapting to the challenges and needs of a constantly changing society.

The attempts to achieve greater job security and to reduce the legal complexity of labour relations in the public administration are the main factors in this agreement. The opening of sectoral rounds of bargaining and monitoring also respond to demands made by the trade unions at the beginning of 1997. The problem of the pay freeze and the recovery of the purchasing power of public sector workers, the main cause of the dispute that started in 1996, have yet to be solved, but this problem is currently being discussing at a national level. Claudia Vallvé (CIREM Foundation)

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