Thursday, September 29

The intrahistory of the negotiation of the labor reform: “In the end there was a lot of tension”

Jokes about whether they fell for El Gordo or an agreement on the labor reform circulated through their chats. The day of the Lottery, Wednesday December 22, was foreseen as a key day in the dialogue table of the future legislation of the labor market, in which the negotiators – where there were many and decisive negotiators – of the text had spent more time in meetings in the last days than in their homes. The three-way pact was caressed, between the Executive and businessmen and unions, something historic and for which very few would have bet months ago. “They were moments of great tension, we were all very tired. Any proposal was interpreted as that the other wanted to steal your wallet, that you could no longer give up more than you had done,” explains one of the agents at the table.

The Government reaches a historic agreement on the labor reform to reduce temporary work in Spain

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They were facing the last steps of a negotiation that had lasted nine months, with a great acceleration in the last one. It went from one meeting a week to two, to three, and finally to every day and every hour. Meetings in the morning and in the afternoon, with contacts until late at night. “There was also a lot of exhaustion, which favored tension and fights,” acknowledge several participants in the negotiation.

The Government’s commitment to Brussels was that the rule would be in the BOE before December 31, 2021, so the objective was that – at the latest – the Council of Ministers could approve it on Tuesday, December 28. Day of the Holy Innocents. Yes, with this there were also jokes.

The moment of truth had arrived: it was necessary to put the tie to the labor reform. After marathon days of negotiation in recent weeks, most of the differences had been ironed out and the debates were now focused on detail, “down to the last comma.” What was foreseen as “a few hours” for the agreement ended up being many, many hours. “I no longer know exactly where we are, really,” said at one point a source from the negotiation. It would take an early morning and a morning of contacts, “of bream dialogue, sometimes”, to solve the last obstacle: subcontracting, and a last-minute problem with the agricultural sector.

Last two obstacles

The employers were cast in the rejection of the existing text on subcontracting and, in particular, to include a mention of the “main activity”. Unions pressed for the measure not to be watered down, fearing it would have no effect on outsourcing. These were not restricted, they were agreeing at least some minimum conditions for their workers, those of the sector of the activity they carry out. If that didn’t work out, what was there? “That took us to eleven-odd on Wednesday, we left and told the Government to offer us a draft with everything we had said and it did,” says a member of the table. “There it was already the turn of the bosses.”

As usually happens, the final minute to confirm the agreement depends on the leaders of the CCOO and UGT unions (Unai Sordo and Pepe Álvarez) and the CEOE and Cepyme employers (Antonio Garamendi and Gerardo Cuerva) in conversations with the Government. Mainly, with the Vice President and Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, in continuous dialogue with the President, Pedro Sánchez, explain sources familiar with these last steps. The agreement finally ended with a text that generates some discomfort regarding subcontracting in some union parts, due to a wording that they consider has lowered their expectations and that it is somewhat confusing. “There are always things that fall by the wayside, the same thing happens when you negotiate a collective agreement, but looking at it in perspective I think it is a good agreement,” says a member of the unions.

And, in the last hours, a last minute problem was saved. Asaja, the employers’ association for young farmers, demanded that “occasional” temporary contracts be lengthened in that sector for 120 days, not 90 days as stated in the government text. The claim encountered opposition from the Ministry of Labor, but also some defenders within the Government. Finally, President Sánchez resolved that they remain 90 days, explain sources of the negotiation.

The moment of truth: you have to vote

With nerves on the surface, on Thursday the internal consultations of the social agents began. The first to vote on the latest draft of the Government were the businessmen. Antonio Garamendi, president of the CEOE, is the one who had the most difficulty defending the yes to the text. Along the way they had achieved changes and transfers that lowered the proposals of the unions and the Government, so their will was to support it. This was finally done by the majority of business organizations in the executive committee, but after a difficult debate in which four important organizations stood out: the Catalan Foment, the Madrid-based Ceim, the automobile ANFAC and Asaja.

“Garamendi has put a couple of noses on him, I think he has thought about the country,” says a trade unionist, who highlights the strong pressures and differences within the business organization. With a right installed in the no to everything, without debate, negotiating and agreeing with a progressive government poses a problem for some employers. Especially the most politicized.

“Garamendi is practical,” says another unionist. “What would have happened if the bosses had gone to the corner from the beginning with this Government? That they did not agree to anything and had trusted that the coalition did not overcome the pandemic, separate, that the legislature was a disaster as the PP said. .. It is a very risky game. The octopus would have fallen, “he continues.

Then it was the turn of the unions, CCOO and UGT, which had it easier and obtained unanimous endorsement within their organizations. The end had been reached. There was agreement of all the social agents in the labor reform.

Recipes for both pact

“Who would have told us this nine months ago,” celebrated a source in social dialogue shortly after the agreement was confirmed. Despite the capacity for consensus demonstrated by social agents in the last two years, this was considered the most complex pact. Something almost impossible.

The labor reform is very important because of its content, which affects the labor market, with conflicting interests between unions and employers, but it also has an unquestionable political weight for the left that made it fear that employers would not enter into negotiations. The Government wanted a three-party agreement, which included employers, to give stability to the legislation in the future and as a gesture highly valued in Brussels to welcome the legislation with outstretched arms.

How was the agreement reached despite the difficulties? Several sources highlight the internal conflict in the government in October as a turning point, but not for the same reasons. They refer to when Nadia Calviño wrote an email to Yolanda Díaz demanding the coordination of the labor reform, which ended with the incorporation of other ministries to the debate, such as Economy and Social Security.

“Until now, the negotiations had been very one-sided, a part of the Government had not been given a voice. There was a blow to the table for the rest of the ministries to join the negotiation, which later transcended because the sending the famous email “, they say on the one hand. “From this moment on, a climate of trust is created as it ensures that the negotiation of the labor reform will follow a balanced line,” these same sources continue.

“The bosses always negotiate at the last minute, the negotiation was not accelerated because the rest of the ministries joined, it already happened with the Rider Law, for example. What could be decisive is that, after the open conflict, President Sánchez he clarified what was going to be done: the government agreement was going to be respected, “they point out on the other hand.

A union agent considers that, once the businessmen were clear about the negotiating framework and that the economic vice president was not the key to reducing key issues such as the ultra-activity of the agreements or the prevalence of the sectoral agreement, the employers entered to negotiate “with everything “to obtain the maximum possible assignments.

There, in the final stretch, comes the crossing of roles and fights, which are maintained out of respect and even affection between the parties. The result has been a pact that has cost all the parties measures, what comes out ahead is not their intact proposals, but they all believe that it is worth having given in to reach the pact. “That is the negotiation, to agree. We do it every day in companies throughout the country, we are used to it,” they say in a union. “This highlights a way of doing things. That of the agreement, which is important in a climate of constant tension like the current one,” values ​​a source from the Executive. “Now, to take the nougat”, celebrates a participant of the negotiation.