By Vicente Clavero
Probably PM Mariano Rajoy doesn’t give a damn, but he’s just got a right earful from the International Labour Organization (ILO). The UN agency, which represents governments, unions and employers, has issued a scathing report on collective bargaining in Spain. According to ILO, reforms since February 2012 and cuts in working conditions of public employees violate freedom of association and have made collective labour agreements not worth the paper they are written on. With these measures – although the ILO does not say so – Rajoy has shown a complete disregard for the rights of workers over these two plus years that has been in power and this is clear as the light of day.
The latest official data on collective bargaining provided by the Ministry of Employment is truly staggering. During the first quarter only 571 agreements were signed in Spain, so it is very likely that over the whole year the figures will not exceed that of 2013, which was the lowest in the last two decades. The 2,094 agreements signed last year are less than half of the 4,585 in 2011 and a third of the 6,016 employers and unions were able to agree in 2007. Whereas before the crisis some 12 million workers were covered by recently signed collective agreements, so far this year the number is only 2.7 million.
This impoverishment of collective bargaining has been influenced, of course, by the terrible economic situation, which makes it very difficult to secure improvements from businesses. But the most decisive factor was the labour reform which has disarmed, at all levels, workers and their union representatives. An example of this was the suppression of a rule that meant that when an agreement expires the previous agreement would stand until a new labour pact was renewed, regardless of how much time passed. Now that rule only holds for a year after it lapses and this can ultimately mean defaulting to the Workers’ Statute, which is often more favourable to employers.
The end of this rule has dealt a mortal blow to unions and is a real gift employers, who had been demanding it with great insistence. The Government, when it decided the cancel it, said it would be a spur to collective bargaining; however, the figures show that was another lie. And let’s face it, what interest do employers now have to renew collective agreements, in the process making some concession or other, when they can find it beneficial to let them lapse. Moreover, in a climate of fear about job losses, this will only undermine unions’ traditional mechanisms of pressure.
Scaring workers with the threat of easy and cheap dismissal and taking away collective bargaining strength are two sides of the same coin of labour reform. Both aim to achieve the same thing: remove protections from the working class so as slash rights won over many of years of struggle, leaving them with little margin-or courage-to dissent. And all with the sole purpose of facilitating a historic revenge by those who are using the powerful tools that the government has placed in their hands.
Translation by Revolting Europe