Stockauto leads labour reform with new agreement

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Stockauto, a vehicle storage and distribution firm, has signed a collective agreement on some of the most controversial issues in the current debate on reform of the Spanish labour market: the creation of secure employment, the definition of the objective reasons for dismissal and the search for procedures to make working time more flexible

Stockauto is a company that stores and distributes the vehicles manufactured by the SEAT automobile company. The company must operate with great flexibility since it clearly depends on the rate of production maintained by SEAT. CC.OO (Comisiones Obreras), the majority trade union in Stockauto, has signed an agreement with the company to give 28 casual workers (around 40% of the work force) a permanent contract. In exchange, a series of measures has been agreed allowing the company to adapt better to variations in SEAT's rate of production.

The agreement provides for fair dismissal of a worker if the number of vehicles handled per employee falls below 60 per day (the current average is 64 vehicles per person per day). If a worker is dismissed fairly, he or she is entitled to compensation of 20 days' pay per year worked up to a maximum of 12 months' pay, in contrast with the 45 days and maximum 42 months' pay laid down in cases of unfair dismissal. Before resorting to dismissal, however, the company must first ensure that it has used all the means at its disposal, as laid down in the agreement, to scale down or suspend the activity of its workers as required by a reduction in demand. Employees must then make up these hours as and when production dictates.

This is not the first agreement in which contractual security is agreed in exchange for certain conditions. Over the past few years, there have been several examples of agreements in which companies have committed themselves to creating secure employment by creating new jobs or converting temporary jobs into permanent ones. This is the case, for example of the agreements at Cotyastor, Roberto Bosch, España Fábrica Castellet, Valeo climatización, Lemmerz Española, Gates Vulca, Unidad Hermética, Damm and Pirelli Manresa. However, in these agreements contractual security has been agreed in exchange for wage reductions, which generally affect only new employees or temporary workers who have obtained a permanent contract, thus creating a double pay scale. Other agreements have also been reached, such as that in the food industry in Pontevedra and the metal industry in Girona, on new types of temporary contracts that ensure greater security in the position concerned.

The Stockauto agreement is considered a new development, however, because contractual security has been agreed in exchange for the laying down of objective reasons for dismissal that are directly linked to the competitiveness of the company. The only agreement similar to that of Stockauto is the one signed in February 1996 at Estampaciones Sabadell, in which a fall in production turnover of more than 20% was set out as a reason for objective dismissal. However, this measure affected only workers who transferred from temporary to permanent contracts, whereas in Stockauto the objective regulation of dismissal affects all workers in the company.

Finally, the Stockauto agreement is of special interest because it was reached in the general context of bargaining between trade unions and employers attempting to achieve a consensus on labour market reform, and the definition of the reasons for objective dismissal is one of the main pitfalls in reaching an agreement. It is also one of the first agreements that has progressed in the direction of introducing a greater degree of union participation in cases of termination of employment contracts for objective reasons, a policy proposed by CC.OO and the other main union confederation, UGT, in their joint agenda for negotiating labour reform. It is likely that similar company agreements will be signed during the course of 1997. In fact, according to trade union sources, several agreements that are currently being negotiated include clauses similar to those of Stockauto.

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