Worksharing in the Basque Country

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In the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, measures to reduce working time and promote worksharing are being introduced through agreements between the regional government and companies. In summer 1997, they are very recent and at an early stage, but they are the only measures of this type in Spain that are supported by a regional government, and they have led to a lively debate amongst the social partners.

In October l995, the Ministry of Labour of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAPV) proposed 10 measures to help reduce working time and promote worksharing:

  1. the reduction and gradual elimination of overtime, involving procedures for replacing it with free time;
  2. flexibility of working hours and rosters;
  3. promotion of part-time work;
  4. promotion of "relief contracts" (contratos de relevo) which replace workers taking retirement with young people aged under 25;
  5. "reactive" worksharing, involving reductions in pay and adjustments in employment levels;
  6. technical support for the reduction and reorganisation of working time ("proactive" worksharing);
  7. tax incentives and public subsidies;
  8. the sharing of working time to be proposed as an objective criterion for the awarding of subsidies by the European Social Fund;
  9. support for subsidies for worksharing that favour continuing training in companies; and
  10. coordinating support for export industries that also adopt proactive worksharing measures.

This proposal led to various reactions amongst the social partners. CONFEBASK, the employers' organisation in the Basque Region, rejects worksharing on principle, on the grounds that "employment can be created, destroyed or transformed, but not distributed." Its position is marked by scepticism about worksharing, though it accepts the 10 points proposed.

Reflecting various shades of opinion, however, the trade unions believe that the policy of worksharing should be more radical. They claim that the Basque regional government's lack of powers to introduce worksharing through legislative means is a significant limitation. For this reason, the regional government is unable to set limits on weekly working hours that involve meaningful reductions in working time and hence job creation. Worksharing must therefore be implemented through sectoral agreements between the social partners, with a high degree of joint responsibility from the regional government in supporting, monitoring and enforcing the agreements. The unions are also opposed to the idea of pay reductions in exchange for worksharing, since they consider that the financing of this policy should reflect to a greater degree the commitment of society as a whole.

In addition to the discussions between the social partners, some specific measures have also been adopted. In 1996, Michelin introduced a fifth shift in one of its workshops in Vitoria, a good example of "proactive" worksharing designed to reduce and reorganise working time that has created more than 200 jobs through more intense utilisation of production capacity.

This type of proposal is well accepted by Basque society. According to the results of a major survey carried out by a Basque newspaper (El Correo, 31 May 1997), half of those questioned would be prepared to reduce their working hours and pay in order to create employment. Related to the creation of employment, especially for young people, the Basques place greater faith in the policy of worksharing than in the April 1997 labour reform (ES9706211F).

Agreements on reducing working time and worksharing

As a result of negotiations between the Ministry of Labour of the CAPV with various companies, the following agreements have now been concluded:

  1. Mondragón Cooperative Group (MCC). An agreement has been signed with this group for promoting employment and worksharing until 2000. This agreement will be the means for creating 4,000 temporary jobs and will cost the regional government ESP 800 million.
  2. Sixteen Basque companies will sign a similar agreement. The participating companies are: Mecaner, Condria, CAF,Alfa, Tubacex, Otsein, Iraun,Eulen, ITT,Mercedes Benz,Michelin,Firestone,Guardian Llodio and Pepsico-KAS. A further 150 applications have been presented to the regional government and "are being studied to see if they meet the conditions". Official sources claim that 60,000 industrial jobs would be affected by these measures, which will also be extended in the medium term to the Workers' Limited Companies' Association. Under this new agreement worksharing may adopt many different forms: whereas in one company overtime may be cut, in another those taking early retirement may be replaced by new employees. In any case, the volume of new jobs and contracts is not quantified.

Commentary

These agreements have led to tensions amongst the social partners represented within the Basque region. The employers view these agreements with reluctance and scepticism and the unions have raised several objections. For example, ELA-STV (Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos), a nationalist union, considers that these agreements "divert public funds" towards certain companies that "obtain large profits" from worksharing because they save 50% on social contributions. However, despite the objections presented by employers and unions, the Basque Ministry of Labour continues to insist on making headway on some of the 10 points, reaching agreements such as those mentioned above.

The approach to worksharing suggested by the CAPV is fairly limited. The most relevant aspects of its proposals are a gradual reduction in overtime, promotion of part-time employment, tax incentives and public subsidies for companies that introduce worksharing.

However, in no case do they express the need for a legal framework based on the 35-hour working week, with sectoral adjustment of these regulations, as was proposed by Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the May/June 1997 French elections (FR9706149F). On the contrary, the Ministry of Labour will reach specific agreements by encouraging companies through subsidies and complementary grants to introduce reductions in overtime, worksharing and so on. Ultimately, the decisions are taken by the employers. If to the foregoing we add the approach of promoting part-time contracts as a way of promoting job creation, at a time when there is about 30% temporary employment, we can see that the prospects of creating new employment are very limited.

Nevertheless, the need for worksharing has been accepted by the Basque public, as has been indicated by the recent survey. Because of this, if there were a labour policy that clearly supported reductions in working time and the fight against overtime, together with voluntary early retirement at 60 and other measures of a structural nature (such as a more active industrial policy), job creation could be favoured.

In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to change not only the present timid and restrictive approach, but also secondary aspects that influence the image created in Basque society by government campaigns. An example of this is that whilst an official campaign has been carried out against overtime (official calculations indicate the possibility of creating 15,000 jobs), a great deal of it continues to be worked in the offices of the Basque regional government itself. (Antón Borja)

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