Bargaining on part-time work in Portugal

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Part-time work in Portugal is not very common and a 1998 report from the Ministry of Labour and Solidarity finds that it is not a major topic in formal sector- and company-level collective bargaining. In general, bargaining in this area has been concerned with setting limits or making small advances with regard to the law.

A new report from the Ministry of Labour and Solidarity (MTS) examines how part-time work has been dealt with in collective bargaining and other forms of collective labour regulation in Portugal ("O trabalho a tempo parcial em Portugal e a regulamentação colectiva", Maria João Janeiro, MTS, CICT (1998)). The study's analysis is based on the premise that the practice of using part-time labour may arise because of the needs of companies or the interests of workers, or as part of a broader perspective of integrating this model of work into job-creation policies (through worksharing or creating new positions).

The extent of part-time work

Data for 1995 from Eurostat- cited by the report - show that, compared with other EU Member States, Portugal was second only to Greece in terms of the average length of the working week (41.2 hours). At the same time, part-time jobs made up a small proportion of all jobs, at only 4.4% (once again, only Greece was lower). In the case of industry, the percentage made up by part-time work was only 2.2%. Even in part-time jobs, the average number of working hours per week - at 22 hours - was high, in this case placing Portugal in the middle range when compared with the other Member States. Statistics from the Portuguese Employment Survey (Inquérito ao Emprego em Portugal) show that part-time work is more common among women, accounting for 11.4% of all employment in 1994, than among men (4.6%).

According to the Department of Statistics of the MTS ("Quadros de pessoal 1994", Ministry for Qualification and Employment (1996)), there are some sectors in which a high percentage of the workers work fewer than 30 hours a week. For example, in security and cleaning services, 59.7% of employees worked fewer than 30 hours a week in 1994, compared with a figure of 8% of all Portuguese working fewer than 25 hours. According to the cleaning sector's collective agreement, 37 or fewer hours per week is considered part-time. The MTS statistics refer only to full-time work and "non full-time" work. In social services and similar types of work, 20.5% of the workers put in fewer than 30 hours per week (mostly in the medical, nursing, and paramedical professions), while in forestry and the lumber industry 18% of workers had a working week below 30 hours. All in all, non full-time work accounted for 7.2% of workers

Formal collective bargaining on part-time work

Negotiations on part-time work issues take place more readily in bargaining at the company level than at the sector level. In the period studied in the new MTS report (1986-96), the issue of part-time work appeared in a low percentage of agreements. Furthermore, the topic was included in fewer sector-level contracts than multi-employer or company-level agreements.

The MTS report states that the sectors in which negotiations over part-time work were most frequent were road transport, hotels, healthcare facilities and cleaning and security services. The outcome of these negotiations is that part-time work is prohibited except: in the case of ancillary services like cleaning, security, sales and distribution; for women as a family-support measure; and for working students or workers with reduced capacity. In the hotel industry, for example, part-time employment is limited to 10% of an establishment's employees and depends on the seasonality and nature of the work, as well as requiring an agreement between the workers concerned and the employer.

In company-level agreements, there has been more direct reference to the organisation of work - in that the use of part-time work depends on company and restructuring needs. For instance: farm credit institutions may resort to this type of work when they are in the organisational start-up phase; the EDP electricity company may resort to part-time work when the use of full time work is not warranted; while at Telecom Portugal, the use of part time depends on agreement between workers and the company. Normally, the workers involved are guaranteed meal subsidies, credits toward seniority and other employee benefits in proportion to the hours worked.

The use of part-time work as an tool of employment policy has only been timidly broached in Portugal, possibly because of the relatively low rate of unemployment and low pay rates. Discussions have centred on the issue of "job fragmentation" and the need to encourage workers to opt for part-time work, while companies have expressed little interest in using this type of work. Employers prefer to use fixed-term contracts and other cost-cutting measures associated with reduced job security, and to reorganise working time through changing schedules and work systems.


Analysing the content of bargaining at sector level shows that the social partners tend to negotiate over part-time work in situations where there is less risk of discontinuity and job insecurity, or where it is inherent to the nature of the work. For this reason, it comes up most frequently in bargaining situations involving cleaning services, for example. Here, part-time work does not threaten the worker's job continuity or security, but rather, it arises from the nature of the work and occupation itself. The involvement of a large number of women may be related to their greater responsibilities in bringing up children and supporting the family. Voluntary part-time work is also negotiated for young students. In all cases, the bargaining is over short, voluntary periods of part-time work with guarantees, in many cases, of eventual full-time work.

We can conclude that bargaining over part-time work occurs only in ancillary professions or in order to improve legal regimes for special categories of workers, and rarely from the perspective of reorganising working hours. It is, though, an item for discussion on the national strategic concertation agenda. (Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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