The Reform of Collective Bargaining in Spain - Legacies and Risks in the Neo-Liberal Reform of Regulation

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.3.04 (Tower Two)
Miguel Martinez Lucio, N/A, United Kingdom
Carlos Jesus Fernandez Rodriguez, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Rafael Ibáñez Rojo, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
This paper will examine the impact of the labour market reforms since 2008 on collective bargaining in Spain.  It focuses on the results of the study of different case studies at company level as well as interviews with national experts and key social partners. We  interviewed 25 individuals: although some more may be added. Several experts on collective bargaining linked to different political and academic institutions have been interviewed.

There has been an ongoing questioning of the nature of social dialogue in democratic Spain. 

This system has been seen by governmental and specific employer circles to have a series of rigidities (couched within a highly ideological view of the Spanish labour market):

- The cost of dismissal has been seen to be higher in terms of the compensation for years worked by an employee

- Collective agreements are seen to be a complex labyrinth of national sectoral, provincial sectoral, and company agreements which are not always clearly tied together

- Collective agreements remain in place if there is not subsequent renewal (ultra-activity)

- There are few mechanisms for the deployment and utilisation of employees within the firm and various ‘inflexibilities’ in terms of the use of working time

Hence the legislation has proceeded since 2011 to focus on the following aspects:

- The decreasing of the cost of dismissal in terms of redundancy payments by firms

- The ability for firms to opt out of agreements and change the content of them should they have according to the law an ‘economic, technical, organisational or productive’ reason to

- The ability to set terms of conditions of employment should an agreement not be renewed due to ultra-activity

- The ability for the firm to develop greater mechanisms for a flexible workforce 

In terms of the content of agreements as a consequence of the reforms in general terms we have seen a focus on wages and working hours emerge which ironically reinforces the narrowness of bargaining. In the interviews it is mentioned occasionally that only working hours and wages are discussed, in a very conservative scenario reinforced by the crisis. Opting-out of agreements, according to trade unions, leads to immediate wage reductions. In economic terms, it is clear that wage settlements have been deeply affected since the reform: losses in real wages have already happened and are expected to keep on happening in the near future (Molina and Miguélez, 2013). The number of collective agreements has decreased notably and there is increasingly a new distribution of working time, a growing abuse in terms of extra working hours, and challenges to maternity leave due to the culture being created by the climate of the reforms according to Juan Blanco from the CCOO.

The paper will argue that the outcomes of these reforms are highly problematic for management as well as labour.  The irony of the reforms is that where there is a challenge and where unilateral action needs to be taken it brings forth an increasing role for the state in judicial terms.  In theory the state has to provide the green light to the unilateral actions of employers if systematically challenged on a range of issues and this requires detailed scrutinising of individual cases and more recently as with Coca Cola and its redundancy programmes which were not accepted by the courts due to the lack of information provided to the works councils. In the case of FNAC the French retail firm the economic argument was seen as being providing spurious arguments for restructuring.  Hence, the reforms have the potential of politicising restructuring and creating a more political climate within the debates on the terms and conditions of employment.  The problem however rests in the fact state agencies are not consistently stepping in to resolve things as planned and not quite intervening to set the rates of pay and terms of conditions where there is no agreement or where there is a lack of clarity on the causes.  The courts and judicial processes are very slow in dealing with cases and appeals and this is creating a further regulatory vacuum where employers can act unilaterally where they feel that they can. This dysfunctional feature of the Spanish labour courts has been a challenging aspect of labour relations in Spain for some time especially in dealing with health and safety cases (see Martinez Lucio, 1998 for a broad discussion).  It plays the role of being a form of facilitator of de-regulation by default as it cannot – even when willing – cover the increasing range of cases that are emerging.

In addition, the reforms do not have a unanimous level of support amongst employers.  The idea that this new neo-liberal or Troika driven turn in the regulation of the conduct of labour relations is something that pits capital against labour fails to pick up the value joint regulation has in terms of establishing the terms and conditions of employment as well as social peace within the workplace and the labour market.  The sectors we have researched reveal very long traditions of dialogue around a range of organisational change and restructuring issues.  In the case of one metal manufacturing of a large scale and of national importance the HR manager argued that it was easy to forget the very detailed discussions and difficult choices taken with unions in previous years which had been pivotal to the peaceful restructuring of the firm.