European Court Of Justice Makes Spain’s Trade Unions Blush

Spanish trade unionsSpanish trade unions

The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling on the conformity of Spanish legislation with regard to compensation for temporary workers whose contracts are terminated is a serious setback for the country’s trade unions.

For decades they have been insensitive to the situation of those workers who don’t have an indefinite contract (interim staff and temporary employees). So much so that the level of affiliation of this group has declined to little more than 2.3 million out of a total of 15.3 million active workers.

The complaint was made by Ana de Diego Porras, contracted by the Ministry of Defence as an interim to cover one of the jobs of the nearly 9,000 full-time union representatives. She was dismissed without any compensation after nine years of working there. She and she alone has been responsible for bringing the matter to the attention of the Luxembourg court, declaring that it is illegal that interim staff contracts don’t have compensation, in contrast with other temporary workers’ contracts. Furthermore, the court’s ruling added, as a kind of bonus, that temporary employees are discriminated against compared with those with an indefinite contract, despite the fact they do the same job.

Although this has been a snub for Spain’s unions, whose activity has always been focused on collective bargaining and on training, which generates a large part of their income, the two main unions UGT and CCOO have made an effort to sign up for it. But in the end, it may be that it is not at all appropriate and will put paid to Spain’s current labour market and relations, as it will inexorably lead to the implementation of the single contract. And according to some experts in labour market issues, this could mean a drama for the country’s current productive system.

The number of workers who may be affected by the European Court of Justice’s ruling is very high. It could have an impact on the almost 4 million temporary contract workers in the country, of which 300,000 are interim staff in Spain’s administration.

In the opinion of some labour law experts, the single contract could be devastating for a labour market like Spain’s. Not least because there are different justifiable reasons for temporary contracts being indispensable in sectors like tourism, which makes a large contribution to GDP.

In the meantime, and despite the transparency laws and other regulations related with the Auditors’ Court, the origin of the trade unions’ funding in Spain remains one of the best kept secrets. For that reason, clarification of issues like redundancies and the training courses in Andalucia, currently being investigated, are particularly interesting.

About the Author

Carlos Díaz Guell
Editor at and, Carlos began his career in financial journalism as founding member of El País. He's been communications director of Bank of Spain, member of the ECC at the European Central Bank, Institutional Relations director at Iberia and editor at La Economía 16 magazine.