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Social partners in Spain set a course for recovery

AFTER A FAILURE TO REACH A DEAL under the extraordinary circumstances of 2009 Spanish unions and employers have resumed their practice of signing a national framework agreement. The framework will run for three years and, as well as pay, it covers recruitment, employment of young people, temporary contracts, training, labour flexibility, voluntary retirement, business start-ups and sub-contracting. On pay the social partners have agreed on modest rises that employers find affordable but which will give workers some extra cash in their pockets to stimulate the economy. The national recommended rises are 1% in 2010, between 1% and 2% in 2011 and between 1.5% and 2.5% in 2012. However the framework envisages variations at company and sector level, firms will be able to apply for exemption to the norm in their industry on the grounds that to grant the rise would damage their financial stability. On the other side of the equation, if after three years inflation has out-stripped pay increases employees will receive payment to make up the difference.
The package on recruitment aims to encourage the employment of young people and the use of open-ended contracts as opposed to temporary ones. Training and ‘handover’ contracts, under which older workers give up some of their hours to new recruits, are advocated as the means to reduce the 40%+ unemployment rate among young people. Spain has the largest percentage of temps in the EU and the agreement seeks to convert as many as possible to permanent employees, if necessary by imposing quotas on companies, as well as by the use of ‘fixed-discontinuous’ contracts for seasonal or intermittent work which are open-ended. Unions and employers see workforce flexibility as a way to avoid redundancies. Measures such as annualised hours, flexitime and teleworking can help, although the latter must only be undertaken with safeguards on health and safety, equipment, training and privacy.
When companies do have to reconstruct, the framework agreement specifies information that must be given to unions and measures like redeployment, training, retirement, help for business start-ups and personal guidance that must be explored before redundancies are made. Reaction to the agreement was positive on all sides with Prime Minister Zapatero congratulating the social partners for bringing ‘stability, security and confidence for companies and workers, and help with recovery’. One of the main union confederations, UGT commented ‘we are all rowing together in the direction of fighting against the destruction of jobs and for the economic recovery for our country’ while the other, CCOO believed that the deal provides ‘a clear signal to the country and the public authorities about the way forward to overcome the crisis’. The framework is likely to usher in over 5,600 collective agreements covering 11.5 million Spanish workers.

UK migrant workers win compensation from racist farmer
Social rôle of post set out in Belgian deal but strikes held
FURTHER DISTURBING EVIDENCE THAT some migrant workers in the UK have been treated appallingly was heard recently in a case in Scotland. Two Polish seasonal workers won £25,000 from fruit farmer David Leslie after they had told the court of their experiences living in a metal container without running water, sharing 12 showers between 200 workers and having wages constantly deducted with tax unpaid. When students Tomasz Kowal and Michal Obieglo approached Leslie, he threatened them with dismissal and, following the presentation of a petition, had the police escort them from the farm, falsely accusing them of stealing fruit. Richard Pitts of the Central Scotland Racial Equality Council described their treatment as ‘modern day slavery’. The judgment against Leslie in the Employment Triibunal followed a previous case when he was found guilty of offences under the Gangmasters Act having illegally employed 250 Bulgarians. His firm faces further bills of £180,000 from the government for unpaid tax and national insurance and £19,000 for the cost of sending them home. Tomasz commented: 'I wouldn't treat a dog the same way he treated us. He should be locked up, ordered to pay a huge fine and his business shut down immediately’.
THE DEADLINE FOR FULL COMPETITION in all postal services in the EU is January next year. Following consultations with the social partners the Belgian government has published the rules for the liberalisation process. The state-run Belgian Post, which employs 35,000 people, will retain the right to provide a universal service with deliveries at least five times a week. Private operators must invest in all three Belgian regions and, by 2018, must cover 80% of the country. They cannot vary their charges according to geography. If they break these rules thay can be fined up to 5% of turnover by the regulator. Only employees of the postal operators may deliver post. The government will continue to guarantee Belgian Post the contract for delivering newspapers, also benefit payments if requested by the customer. Overall the company will still be subsidised to the tune of €321 million. Based on these rules the unions reached an agreement with management for a 2% pay rise with greater recognition of the social rôle of postal workers. However the issue of ‘community postal delivery workers’, which the company want to replace retirees, has caused a number of strikes and is still outstanding. By recruiting students and housewives at low rates of pay management hope to save €30 million.

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