This is setting an example that gives hope to many trade unions in Europe which are fighting to strengthen or rebuild collective bargaining structures in Europe.

After more than 9 months of tough negotiations, on 22 December 2021, a tripartite* social dialogue agreement was reached in Spain which repeals central aspects of the 2012 labour reform implemented by the then Conservative government. The agreement covers collective bargaining, temporary contracts, subcontracting and retraining schemes. Trade unions are confident that it will be adopted by the Spanish Parliament.

The 2012 reform had been severely damaging as it curtailed labour rights and hindered wage growth in Spain. Introduced by former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, the labour market reforms focused on the collective bargaining system and strongly impacted dismissal costs and procedures.

The new agreement is part of a deal between the Spanish government, made up of the Socialist Party and the left-wing coalition, UNIDAS Podemos, and the European Commission. Spain had been required to agree on reforms to release €140 billion that has been allocated to Spain over the next six years in the €750 billion EU Recovery Fund. The agreement’s main objective is to give more stability to the Spanish labour market and improve rules, as of 2022.

The agreement will strengthen the central role of social dialogue in general and in connection with the EU Resilience Plan, as a fundamental tool for a fair economic and social recovery. In the current context of transformation, achieving a radical reduction of inequalities and improving working and living conditions is of central importance to the trade unions.

An important victory for trade unions is the return to sectoral collective agreements prevailing over company or smaller territorial agreements. This had been a trade union priority. Progress was also achieved regarding the country’s high number of temporary workers. The deal seeks to end the abuse of temporary employment and promotes a standard, indefinite employment contract.

Spain’s labour minister agreed on two exceptions to open-ended contracts:
  1. if short-term contracts are necessary to satisfy peaks in demand or production
  2. for interim posts

The text defines training arrangements for alternating work and training. It also requires that remuneration for internship contracts can never be lower than the minimum wage. Furthermore, to limit employers’ use of subcontracting and outsourcing, service companies will have to respect working conditions and salaries established in the sectors in which they operate.

The question of sanctions to be imposed on companies that continue to abuse temporary contracts is still being discussed. The labour ministry has proposed to raise the maximum fine from €7,500 to €10,000.

Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe Deputy General Secretary, comments:

“The reversal of the 2012 labour reforms represents an important victory for Spanish trade unions. Promoting collective bargaining and social dialogue, as well as ending the proliferation of precarious work, is hugely important to reduce inequalities and help put Spain on a path of sustainable recovery.

The agreement confirms the importance of sector-level collective bargaining, and this is an important achievement for the Spanish and European trade union movement. This is setting an example that gives hope to many trade unions in Europe which are fighting to strengthen or rebuild collective bargaining structures in Europe.”

*The parties to the agreement are the Spanish government, the employers and UGT/CC.OO

See also the ETUC congratulation letter for the efforts made by CC.OO and UGT-E to successfully negotiate a substantial labour reform, and a summary of the agreement.

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication), Erlend Hansen (policy adviser)