- Bargaining for social rights at sectoral level: country report: Spain
- BARSORIS reports
- Number of pages
- Amsterdam Institute for Advanced labour Studies, University of Amsterdam
- Document type
- Faculty of Law (FdR)
- Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
There is no widespread consensus on what constitutes a precarious form of employment. The dividing line between atypical (flexible) and precarious employment is blurred and the analysis shows important differences across sectors in their use, extension, employer perceptions and trade union acceptance.
The most important form of precarious employment is temporary, which is the predominant form also in the TAW and construction sectors, but is also important in private hospitals, industrial cleaning and care. The precariousness linked to instability has been reinforced by the extension of long-term unemployment and cuts in unemployment benefits. Part-time employment is strongly linked to low pay, as the industrial cleaning sector shows very clearly. Even though this atypical form of employment is also important in the public hospital sector, it doesn’t translate into precariousness. Part-time is also present in the care sector and private hospitals. Finally, self-employment is characteristic of the private hospital sector, but it is not associated with precariousness.
Peak bipartite social dialogue has made a significant contribution to enhance the regulatory role of collective bargaining, and more specifically, to introduce clauses improving employment security and reducing precariousness. This can be observed in all sectors analyzed, where clauses have been introduced in national-sector collective agreements in line with recommendations laid down in peak inter-confederal agreements for collective bargaining signed since 1997.
In all sectors, the crisis and in particular the 2012 labour market reform has introduced new elements that have increased tensions between social partners, and in some cases, led to a paralysis of collective bargaining, as TAW sector clearly shows. Particularly important in this regard have been the extension of temporary opting out by the employer as well as the limits imposed on the temporary extension of collective agreements (Ultractividad). The reform has certainly eroded the regulatory and protective capacity of collective bargaining, and has introduced elements dampening workers’ voice. This is a key dimension of precariousness in order to understand future developments.
But there are also examples of continued cooperation, even during the crisis and after the 2012 reform. This would be the case of the construction sector, to a large extent explained by a) a shared blaming of the state as both the cause and solution for overcoming the crisis (similarly to what was also observed in the cleaning sector) and b) the institutionalization of social dialogue around a number of bi-partite bodies at sectoral level that do not restrict negotiations and dialogue to the periodical renewal of the collective agreement.
The extension of atypical forms of employment, deriving in some cases in precariousness, has been reinforced by the high unemployment rate, but the analysis also shows very different logics across the sectors analyzed. In the case of the cleaning and care sectors, a) an easily replaceable workforce and b) increasing competition between private companies for being awarded public tenders, has led to a downward pressure on labour costs. At the same time, this has triggered a reduction in working time and an extension of low pay. In the case of public hospitals, atypical forms of employment have been introduced as a consequence of public spending cuts, but precariousness remains very limited in scope. In private hospitals, atypical forms of employment are more widespread than in the public sector and derive very often from the need to make compatible a job in the public and the private sectors. In the case of construction, there has not been an extension of atypical forms of employment; both unions and employers acknowledge the intrinsically temporary character of their activity. In this vein, precariousness does not derive directly from temporary employment, but from high unemployment and declining unemployment protection coverage.
In some of the sectors analysed, trade unions have prioritized maintaining employment levels over wage increases or maintaining working time. Even though this has contributed in some cases to extend forms of precariousness like low pay, it is a strategy supported by workers provided the high (long-term) unemployment rate. It is also important to remark how in some sectors like construction, trade unions have paid particular attention in their relationship with employers to the unemployed, which goes against the essence of the so-called insider-outsider divide.
Few joint initiatives have been developed at sectoral level in recent years in order to improve the position of precarious workers. First, because the emphasis has been placed on maintaining employment levels rather than on improving the conditions of those already employed. Secondly, because another concern, particularly for trade unions, has been to restore social dialogue with employers and manage to re-negotiate sectoral collective agreements. However, there are positive experiences like now the cleaning and care sectors where employers and trade unions have established mechanisms in order for workers to certify the skills acquired and obtain professional certificates.
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