Equal opportunities in collective bargaining examined

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Since the the main trade unions and employers' organisations signed an agreement providing a framework for lower-level collective bargaining in 2002, equal opportunities for men and women has become an explicit aim of collective bargaining. The data available in 2004 indicate an increasing incorporation of this issue in collective agreements, though the agreed content still tends to consist of declarations of intent rather than specific policies and action. National sectoral agreements seems to offer the best results in terms of the inclusion of equal opportunities in bargaining, whereas the company level shows the best results in the establishment of good practices.

The subject of equal opportunities between women and men is beginning to form part of the process of collective bargaining in Spain (ES0312102F). In December 2001, the main trade union confederations - the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) and the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT ) and main employers' confederations - the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE) and the Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Confederación Española de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa, CEPYME) - signed an intersectoral 'agreement on collective bargaining' (Acuerdo para la Negociación Colectiva, ANC) providing a framework for lower-level bargaining in 2002 (ES0201207F). This accord recognised, for the first time in Spain, the promotion of equal opportunities between women and men as a central issue in collective bargaining. The ANC 2002 gave the issue great importance, and provided that the 'monitoring commission' overseeing the ANC (Comisión de Seguimiento del ANC) should draw up a report to guide the treatment of this subject in subsequent agreements and collective bargaining processes. According to the tripartite Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social, CES), the resulting report, approved in February 2003 (Consideraciones generales y buenas prácticas sobre igualdad de oportunidades entre hombres y mujeres en la negociación colectiva), represents a 'clear decision by the social partners to adopt a model of industrial relations that integrates equal opportunities as one of the principles of company organisation' (Economía, Trabajo y Sociedad. Memoria sobre la situación socioeconómica y laboral de la nación 2002, CES, Madrid, MTAS, 2003).

These provisions of the ANC 2002 were placed in the context of EU Directive 2002/73/EC (EU0205201N) amending the 1976 gender equal treatment Directive (76/207/EEC), which must be implemented by October 2005. Directive 2002/73/EC promotes collective bargaining as a key instrument for promoting equal opportunities in the labour market and in employment.

The guidelines aimed at fostering equal opportunities agreed in the ANC 2002 and ratified by the ANCs subsequently concluded for 2003 (ES0302204F) and 2004, are very general. They state that 'Spain still has low activity rates of women and a high level of unemployment. There are also unjustified pay differences between men and women, and the family model is still based on the majority assumption of the family responsibilities by women, which involves additional difficulties for the development of their career'. It is therefore proposed to act in three directions:

  • promoting actions aimed at eliminating direct and indirect pay discrimination, and examining its possible causes;
  • favouring equal opportunities in employment and recruitment through practices that promote the occupational diversity of women and their access to training, work placement and recruitment in traditionally male occupations and jobs; and
  • bringing up to date provisions on parental leave and protection of maternity, in accordance with Law 39/1999 on the reconciliation of work and family life (Ley 39/1999 de Conciliación de la vida laboral y familiar) (ES9911165F).

These guidelines are in agreement with the diagnosis and the measures proposed in a report drawn up by the CES at the request of the Ministry of Labour (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, MTAS) and approved by the CES plenary session on 22 October 2003 ('La negociación colectiva como mecanismo de promoción de la igualdad entre hombres y mujeres', CES, Informe 2/2003). This report is useful in identifying the current situation of equal opportunities in the working environment. It offers a good synthesis of existing knowledge, and indicates how Spanish specialists, trade unions and employers' organisations view the subject. It also suggests what might be seen as obstacles to progress: the lack of tradition in bargaining with regard to this subject and the difficulty of applying a 'transversal' approach, as is recommended by EU Directive 2002/73/EC.


The CES report's figures on the presence of 'clauses concerning equal opportunities between women and men' in collective bargaining show the increasing importance of the subject, but indicate that the content and scope are still insufficient. As can be seen in the table below, in 2002 clauses on equal opportunities were found in 906 collective agreements affecting 35.9% of workers. The latest official figures for agreements up to May 2003 show an increase in both the number of agreements and the number of workers affected, which is now 43.2% of the total (the figures, from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, are based on registered agreements and are not finalised until six months after each year, so the figures for the 2003 agreements are still incomplete).

These results in terms of coverage are slightly tarnished by the 'content' of the agreements, according to the report. Though it is difficult to summarise the content of collective agreements because of their great heterogeneity and the way information on them is gathered, in its reports on collective bargaining since 2002 the CES divides collective agreements into three main categories:

  1. those that do not include any clauses on equal opportunities or that merely reflect the current law (the majority);
  2. those that make some improvement on the provisions of the law (eg in relation to maternity leave) or which make an explicit commitment to non-discrimination in any of the aspects of the labour relationship, such as pay, recruitment and promotion (fewer in number than the first group); and
  3. those that specify specific actions and agreements to promote equal opportunities, eg through positive action (very few in number).

In their annual reports on collective bargaining, the main trade union confederations praise the introduction of equal opportunities as a subject of bargaining. However, they believe that now is the time for progress in the specific field through the introduction of measures to improve women's prospects of obtaining jobs and to improve the quality of female employment (see, for example, Criterios para la negociación colectiva en 2004, CC.OO, approved by the confederal executive committee on 18 November 2003.).

From the viewpoint of the the structure of collective bargaining, national sectoral agreements seems to offer the best results for favouring the presence or development of provisions on equal opportunities (these feature in around 20% of agreements at levels higher than the company, compared with 15% of company agreements). Also, the company agreements affect a far smaller number of people (see the table below). Centralised bargaining thus favours the inclusion of equal opportunities issues, though some company agreements show better results with regard to the content of the agreements reached, as in the case of companies that establish 'good practices' in this area.

Collective agreements with clauses on equal opportunities and workers affected, by type of agreement, 2002 and 2003
. 2002 2003(*)
Agreements Workers affected Agreements Workers affected
% % % %
Total Nº of agreements 5,462 100 9,696,530 100 5,075 100 9,086,624 100
Total Nº of agreements that include equal opportunities provisions 906 16.5 3,485,811 35.9 881 17.3 3,930,606 43.2
Total Nº of company agreements 4,086 100 1,025,929 100 3,821 100 1,008,405 100
Company agreements that include equal opportunities provisions 618 15.1 317,200 30.9 593 15.5 366,043 36.3
Total Nº of agreements at other levels (**) 1,376 100 8,670,601 100 1,254 100 8,078,219 100
Agreements at other levels (**) that include equal opportunities provisions 288 20.9 3,168,611 36.5 288 22.9 3,564,563 44.1

(*) Agreements registered until May 2003; (**) Basically national sectoral agreements.

Source: 'Anuario de Estadísticas Laborales'. 2003 (4th revision). MTAS (electronic edition).


The subject of equal opportunities between women and men is now on the collective bargaining agenda in Spain. However, the results obtained since the signing of the first intersectoral ANC agreement in 2002 show that caution rather than optimism is called for. The Spanish labour market is profoundly gender-based. Gender inequalities are visible in both recruitment and employment and also in the characteristics of male and female employment. As recommended by EU Directive 2002/73/EC, collective bargaining is seen by the social partners, and particularly by the trade unions, as one of the main tools for promoting equal opportunities. However, the Spanish trade unions consider that it is not the only instrument, and legislation to achieve the complete transposition of this Directive and those concerning the reconciliation of work and family life is thus one of their clear objectives. For the employers' organisations, it is a subject of minor importance, or even not an issue in industrial relations. In both cases, the culture of trade unions and employers makes it difficult to pay greater attention to gender inequalities in employment. Finally, it is not yet certain to what extent the new Socialist Spanish government will promote equal opportunities. (Pilar Carrasquer Oto, QUIT- Dept. of Sociology UAB)

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