The collective agreement of Spanish department stores, which affects 230,000 workers of two dozen national and multinational companies (from Ikea to El Corte Inglés) is one of the landmarks of collective bargaining and can be seen an example. After hard bargaining, the two major unions in the retail (which are not CCOO and UGT) and the employers signed the new regulation for 20013/16 this week. Both parties had to make concessions.
To put it simple, the new regulation follows the old principle that in times of crisis people should be working more and earning less. More working hours are added, up to nearly 1,800 per year, a fact that Germany should note (by the way, how many German conventions establish that many working hours?) in order to dismiss the cliché of Southern Europeans being lazy.
Besides, wages have been frozen and some privileges are lost, with possible up or downwards variations depending on the company, and the evolution of sales that have fallen during the past four years, from nearly 45,000 million euro (2008) to less than 39,000 in 2012.
The new regulation is a hard one for workers, indeed. It tries to protect the employment figures more than wages. It has been negotiated with rigour and respect, without conflict, which is indicative of mature and responsible labour relations. So has been the chemical industry working regulation, another landmark signed a month ago for 200,000 workers. There was no conflict either in spite of the fact that wages were linked to the economy growth instead of to the price index.
These are examples of Spain’s current defence of employment, which is the country’s today main problem. For the last three years wages have almost stayed the same, under inflation, increasing productivity gains.