Transversal agreement in Catalonia to renew the labour relations framework and foster “negotiated flexibility”

The Catalan Government has signed an agreement with the main trade unions and business association to foster “negotiated flexibility” within the labour market. The aim is to provide companies with a greater flexibility framework while securing jobs. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, suggested the new Spanish Government follow Catalonia’s example of reaching an agreement with the social agents to improve the labour market.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 29, 2011 12:30 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Government, the main trade unions and the largest business-owner association have signed an agreement to renew the labour relations framework in Catalonia. The agreement aims to foster what they have defined as “negotiated flexibility”, giving more flexibility to individual companies to reach collective agreements with their employees in order to avoid lay offs. Therefore, companies will profit from a greater flexibility framework, while employees will have more tools and guarantees to secure their jobs. This new framework agreement ruling labour relations in Catalonia will run from 2011 to 2014. The agreement had been reached on November 3rd between the main trade unions –the General Workers Union (UGT) and the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO)- and the largest business-owner association in Catalonia –Foment del Treball Nacional. However, it was officially signed at the Catalan Government Palace on Monday morning, in order not to interfere with the last electoral campaign. The Catalan President, Artur Mas, stressed that the agreement aims to become “a tool for economic growth and employment”. In addition, he asked the future Spanish Government “to follow Catalonia’s example”, which “once again has become a model with concrete initiatives”. Trade union leaders and the Chairman of the business association, three weeks ago, said that the agreement reached aims “to orientate” the new Spanish Parliament to reform the labour market.

The new Inter-professional Agreement for 2011-2014 prioritises “negotiated flexibility” to avoid job losses. The social agents promote dialogue as the main formula ruling labour relations in Catalonia. In addition, they defend the agreement reached in Catalonia as a way to “orientate” a labour market reform at Spanish level. Companies will have greater flexibility to negotiate collective agreements to manage human resources in difficult economic cycles. To reach the agreement, it has been essential the trade unions open attitude to discuss and solve the matter of absenteeism from work.

A greater role for Catalonia’s Labour Court

In addition, Catalonia’s Labour Court will have a greater role in order to become a true referent point in labour arbitrations and resolutions. Furthermore, it will not be affected by the budget cuts, and it is expected it will have greater resources. The Chairman of Foment, Joaquim Gay de Montellà, recognised that using Catalonia’s Labour Court appropriately could save part of the €40 billion spent in labour conflict resolution processes by Catalan companies and who are currently waiting for judicial resolutions.

Two and a half months of talks

The agreement had been reached by the main trade unions –the General Workers Union (UGT) and the Workers Commissions (CCOO)- and the largest business-owner association in Catalonia –Foment del Treball Nacional after two and a half months of talks, and six intensive negotiation days. The agreement reached represents the third edition in a series that began in 2000. The 2011-2014 agreement is particularly conditioned by the economic crisis. It aims to foster the creation of quality employment and avoid “definitive” adjustments of staff, in order to avoid massive lay offs.

Catalonia may be a model for a reform at Spanish level

The Catalan President said that “Catalonia is leading certain processes and showing what path” to follow. According to him, the labour market in Catalonia and Spain needs “flexibility” and needs “an update and change”. Mas added that the new Spanish Government could “note Catalonia’s example”, in order to handle the reform of the Spanish labour market. Regarding a labour market reform at Spanish level, Mas recognised that “work is being done in some areas”, but “it is the moment to work quickly”, he concluded.

The social agents are satisfied with the agreement

The Catalan social agents are said to be very satisfied with the agreement. The Chairman of Foment, Joaquim Gay de Montellà, stated that the “agreement is proof of the unity to defend businesses and jobs within the Catalan labour market”. Gay de Montellà praised “the bravery of the trade unions”. He also asked the Catalan Government “to continue with the adjustments it is undertaking” to foster its austerity plan and implement its reforms.

The CCOO Secretary General in Catalonia, Joan Carles Gallego, defended “negotiated flexibility” as a way “to help companies adapt to the economic cycle”, “with the objective to avoid lay offs and externalising the solutions to the crisis”. He also said that the agreed framework is “evidence that such agreements cannot be imposed”, in a reference to formulas suggested by foreign governments and international organisations. UGT’s leader in Catalonia, Josep Maria Àlvarez, explained that the agreement is proof that “social agents can reach an agreement when they try”. He also pointed out that with the agreement Catalan labour relations will continue to be based on corporate profit, corporate productivity and price evolution.