PSI Portuguese affiliate wins full decentralized collective bargaining rights for municipal workers

On 7 October 2015, the Portuguese Constitutional Court ruled the unconstitutionality of Portugal’s central government interference in the collective bargaining process between local government employers and trade unions and has ordered the public disclosure of the over 600 collective agreements negotiated at a municipal level over many years, which will now be accessible to all local government employees of Portugal.

The ruling, whose full text in Portuguese is accessible here,  dismisses on the grounds of violation of the "principle of local autonomy" enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution – and with immediate and binding effect - the rules contained in the General Labour Law on Civil Servants of Portugal. These rules give the members of the Portuguese Central Government in charge of Finance and Public Administration the powers to enter into and sign collective agreements as public employers with municipal administration employees, thus interfering with the collective bargaining rights of local government employers and trade unions.

PSI celebrates this major win by its Portuguese affiliated organization the National Trade Union of Local Administration Workers of Portugal (STAL) who has been relentlessly fighting for many years for the full access and enjoyment of the fundamental right for municipal workers to decentralized collective bargaining with their local government employers - without the interference of central government – and for the transparency and public disclosure of local government collective labour agreements. The ruling also represents a major case of recognition of the autonomy of local government administrations, of their local democratic power, of their role as employers, and of their right to collective bargaining. Several municipalities fought jointly with the STAL trade union towards this landmark constitutional ruling.

In a message to STAL President Francisco Braz referring to the win, Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, said:

‘The fight and dedication of the STAL union to ensure that Portuguese municipal workers can collectively and directly negotiate with their local government employers to set working conditions that suit their local reality is a critical achievement and a progressive advancement for the Portuguese industrial relations system, and sets a critical precedent for all PSI affiliates still struggling for the recognition and access of municipal workers to local collective bargaining rights. The ruling rightfully gives a voice to the local government workers and employers of Portugal, redressing Portuguese law and putting it back in line with ILO’s fundamental Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98) , and Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention, (No. 151) . This ruling should serve as a benchmark for many other governments still denying this fundamental human and labour rights to local government trade unions and employers in Europe and worldwide’.

This win is even more significant as it comes in a time of severe austerity and cuts in public spending for the country, whose ravaging effects on the human and labour rights and conditions of local public services, their workers and the communities they serve is dramatic.  Decentralized collective bargaining will also help, to ensure that local government and their employees will be better equipped to deliver quality essential public services to the local communities they serve.