June 2010: Debating the crisis, working time, outsourcing and equal pay

(21 June 2010) Over 40 participants from 10 countries met in Madrid on 16-17 June to debate a number of key collective bargaining issues. Top of the agenda was the impact of the crisis with reports of how governments in Spain, Italy and Portugal in particular are cutting or freezing pay as well as cutting jobs and freezing recruitment.

The meeting was the second of three regional collective bargaining meetings that EPSU has organised this year with the financial assistance of the European Commission.

Unions were continuing their campaigns of resistance with demonstrations and strike action. Spanish union confederations had agreed to call a general strike on 29 September, the day that the ETUC had already set for a European-wide day of action.

Unions had managed to resist government imposed pay cuts in Croatia. Two 6% cuts planned for last year were not implemented and the government increased taxes instead. Now unions were mobilising around threats the change the labour code and were using a petition to win support from the public for a referendum on the issue.

An increase in outsourcing and the spread of precarious employment were also debated. Unions were aware of the threat that these would increase as governments attempted to cut costs. Unions in Portugal had made precarious employment a key part of their campaign against the government labour law reform policies, with the an estimated 1.4 million workers already experiencing various forms of precarious employment. In Italy, the government's drastic response to reducing fixed-term contracts in the public sector was to plan to cuts thousands of temporary jobs.

A discussion on equal pay was introduced by researcher, Jane Pillinger, with an indepth debate on the nature of the gender pay gap. It was clear that in some sectors, like health services, the main issue was the widespread low pay for many women-dominated professions compared to other occupations.

Participants were briefed on the latest developments on working time and it was clear that in some countries, like Spain, there was still a lot to do to ensure that the Working Time Directive was fully implemented. Negotiations were going on in some countries to try to tackle long shifts and long periods of on-call time but the crisis and cuts were posing an additional challenge for some sectors where there was already a staffing shortage.

Participants at the meeting were from: Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Croatia, Macedonia, Malta, France, Serbia and Finland.

The third regional meeting will take place in Bratislava in September and is aimed at EPSU affiliates in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Poland, the UK, Netherlands and Ireland.

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